Ames legislators put emphasis on funding education going into next legislative session

The Iowa 2018 legislative session begins Monday, Jan. 8. A main focus for Ames legislators will be funding for state universities as well as K-12 schools.

Danielle Gehr

Legislators from around Iowa met once again Monday under the golden dome for the start of the 2018 legislative session. Issues similar to those from the 2017 session will likely be brought up again, including tax reform and funding for education.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, Rep. Lisa Heddens and Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell will represent Ames throughout the session and all plan to put an emphasis on ensuring funding for education in Iowa. Here are the Ames legislators and their priorities for the 2018 legislative session. 

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames

For Sen. Herman Quirmbach, a ranking member of the education committee, funding for education in Iowa is a main priority. 

Quirmbach said he disagrees with the annual tuition increases which put the financial burden on students, but understands the university must make up for budget cuts at the state level. 

The institution must keep up with a student population that has grown considerably over the last decade and maintain competitive salaries to retain quality faculty, Quirmbach said. Iowa State can’t do this without state funding, he added. 

“The Republicans—and I don’t want to make it sound partisan, but I didn’t vote for it—cut the university about 6 percent, I think about $9 million last year, so what that meant this fall was a five percent tuition increase,” Quirmbach said. 

Though the Board of Regents have postponed a tuition decision which was scheduled to take place last October, former Iowa State interim President Benjamin Allen proposed a yearly 7 percent increase for in-state and 4 percent increase for out-of-state students starting fall 2018. 

Quirmbach also supports an expansion of the Veterinary Diagnostics Lab which President Wendy Wintersteen is pushing for. He said he wants the state to help fund this expansion. 

“They do a lot of very critical work in analyzing potential disease data samples from livestock operations around the state and we saw what the devastation was caused by the bird flu,” Quirmbach said. “The Veterinary Diagnostics Lab does critical work in identifying an outbreak early, so as to limit the farmer’s loss and also limit the threat to public health.”

An issue Quirmbach plans to speak out against are plans to cut taxes. He fears this will further limit the budget and take funding away from education as well as other programs around the state. 

“We have to keep a keen eye on protecting revenues that we need to fund vital basic services,” Quirmbach said. 

Contact Sen. Quirmbach 

Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames

Rep. Heddens listed five main priorities going into this session: adjusting Medicaid privatization, funding the Veterinary Diagnostics Lab expansion, funding education to help minimize tuition increases, ensuring childcare protections and adequately funding Iowa’s mental health system. 

When asked if the regent universities should expect similar budget cuts to what was seen last year, Heddens said it’s hard to say, but the budget is tight. She added that she wants to make sure her priority areas are covered before they start looking at any tax cuts. 

“Whether it be preschool through K12 through community college and the regent universities, we want to ensure that we are providing funds so that tuitions aren’t going up [to] double digits for students and their families and that we’re able to maintain quality education within the state of Iowa,” Heddens said.

She said she is not willing to put tax breaks before quality education. 

Another priority for Heddens is funding Iowa’s mental health system. She said currently mental health services are predominately funded through the mental health and disability levy within property taxes. 

Heddens said this levy does not completely fill the need since it has not been raised for about 20 years. 

“We want to ensure that we’re having a broad array of services, that they are adequately funded and that we have a continuum of services, so people are not having to look out of state for services to meet the needs of their loved one,” Heddens said.

After having experienced being both in the minority and the majority party, Heddens said last year was the hardest year she has had in the minority party. 

She said some colleagues she was previously able to negotiate with in the past were not as lenient last year. 

“We all come with varying backgrounds and ideas and expertise and I think, whether you’re in the majority or minority, you should be listening to all sides and taking in additional expertise and working on legislation,” Heddens said. 

She feels this collaboration has been lost and hopes that this year legislators can start regaining a greater ability to negotiate. 

Contact Rep. Heddens

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames

Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell said her main focus going into the next legislative session is assuring adequate funding for education in Iowa. Last year, Iowa’s regent universities lost a total of $21.4 million in state appropriations; Iowa State lost $9 million. 

Wessel-Kroeschell said she heard from Iowa State administration that $2.5 million may be cut from Iowa State for their current fiscal year. 

“I’m concerned about programming,” Wessel-Kroeschell said. “I’m concerned about class sizes, being able to retain quality faculty and staff. I certainly am concerned about what the regents will propose officially in terms of tuition increases.”

She said this proposal will ultimately put the burden on current and future students since the lack of funding will likely be made up with more tuition increases. 

“I know that money isn’t the only thing,” Wessel-Kroeschell said, “but by starving our schools, we are creating problems at all levels, and we are at that level where we are starving our institutions.”

After meeting with President Wendy Wintersteen, Wessel-Kroeschell also plans to support funding the expansion of the Veterinary Diagnostics Lab. 

Contact Rep. Wessel-Kroeschell

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