We are all aware the national, state, and even local media like to report controversial and partisan issues, but the vast majority of the bills we work on and pass are non-controversial. An interesting twist is when non-controversial legislation is made possible by a highly controversial, party-line vote. Consider these two bills:
House File 564 – this bill provides new allowable uses for specific funding received by school districts and requires the State Board of Education to give deference to school boards when the Board of Education adopts rules. It lifts restrictions previously put on a series of funds for education, giving more local control to our schools and letting them decide better ways to use their funding. The bill applies to funding related to professional development, at-risk/dropout prevention, preschool, and student activities. It permits the purchase of textbooks and curriculum materials from the professional development fund if they include professional development as part of the cost and allows for preschool funding to be used for age-specific playground equipment and translation services for preschool students.
The Senate also debated House File 565, another bill giving more flexibility to our schools. The bill allows for the creation of a Flexibility Account within the General Fund of each school district to collect unexpended and unobligated funds from a few different sources of categorical funding. This bill also allows the school district to use those funds for purposes dictated by the original source or other general fund purposes. The account, as a part of the school district’s General Fund, would consist of unused funds from the Home School Assistance Program, preschool funds, and professional development funds. Those funds could then be used for preschool programming, professional development purposes, Home School Assistance Program purposes, at-risk/dropout prevention programming, Talented and Gifted programming, or other general fund purposes.
Both HF 564 and HF 565 passed the Senate unanimously. But there is more to the story. The Senate Democrats wished they could add this flexibility while they were in the majority. They couldn’t because both Republicans and Democrats knew that these categorical funds were “fenced off” from the school general fund so that they were not available as funds to be bargained for under the old public union collective bargaining law. This policy ensured the funds went to their specified purpose and not captured in binding arbitration in which ability to pay was a required consideration.
This year’s controversial changes to our public union bargaining law have allowed local administrators to finally spend locally collected dollars where they are needed, bypassing state protections on use. While debating the flexibility bills, Senate Democrats repeatedly showed long-standing, honest support for this policy. Despite their support for the ideas, they knew the reality of granting this level of local control under the old system, and they were never going to change the collective bargaining laws to kept such local control from existing. The Senate Democrats put a higher priority on protecting unions than enabling our local schools to make decisions for the benefit of students. I’m proud to have been part of the solution to this long-standing problem. Thank you for the opportunity to make a difference in this area.