Below are the opening day remarks of Senate President Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, as prepared for delivery:
Good morning colleagues of the Senate, friends, family, and people of the State of Iowa. Welcome to the first session of the 90th General Assembly. As I look around, I see many new faces filling the desks of the Senate Chamber, and I want to congratulate the 14 new Senators sworn into office today.
· Senator De Witt
· Senator Evans
· Senator Alons
· Senator Westrich
· Senator Knox
· Senator Bousselot
· Senator Salmon
· Senator Donahue
· Senator Bennett
· Senator Gruenhagen
· Senator McClintock
· Senator Weiner
· Senator Webster
· And Senator Winkler
As those of you who are returning already know, and our new colleagues will quickly learn throughout the legislative session, it is a tremendous responsibility, yet a huge honor to serve the people of this state in the Iowa Senate. Our work together over the next 110 days stands to impact the daily lives of millions of Iowa citizens.
Having served as the Chair of the Education Committee, I am proud of the groundwork we laid to ensure Iowa’s educational system thrives. Since taking the majority in 2017, we have invested over $400 million in new funding for Iowa’s K-12 schools, which provided responsible and sustainable growth for our local districts and educators, even through uncertain times like the pandemic. As my friend Senator Quirmbach so often reminds me, “Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.” Well in Iowa, K-12 school funding makes up 45% of the state’s general fund budget. And if you include the full range of educational resources available to Iowans, 56% of the state budget is dedicated to securing the futures for our next generation through our education systems. Our budget makes it clear that Senate Republicans’ priorities have been, and will continue to be, solidly on supporting every single student’s right to reach their full potential through lifelong learning.
In spite of the pandemic, Iowa has continued to make strides in improving student proficiency. We have already begun to see the benefit of being one of the first states to get our kids back in the classroom during the pandemic. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Iowa ranked in the top third in 4th grade math, 4th grade reading, and 8th grade math and in the top half for 8th grade reading. While many states saw a decrease in proficiency, Iowa did not. Even at the high school level, Iowa students consistently outscored the national average on the ACT by a point or more.
But we can still do better. In 2020, we began work on a bill aimed at keeping our students and teachers safe and providing the most productive learning environment for all students. We passed SF 2360 creating therapeutic classrooms and requiring reports on incidents of violence in the classroom. Those reports show the importance of this legislation we passed and reminds us that more can be done on the issue. The 2022 report from the Iowa Department of Education on Incidents of Violence shows that the total number of reports from school districts on incidents that resulted in injury, property damage, or assault totaled over 4,000. As legislators, we must prioritize the safety of our students and teachers and ensure teachers can focus on their primary job: helping Iowa’s students learn and grow to their full potential.
This job cannot be done without the support of parents. Throughout the pandemic, many parents became more attentive to what is happening in their child’s classroom, invested more in the education of their child, and had more visibility than ever before during the period of online learning and students’ transition back to the regular classroom. This visibility sparked both a state and a national movement for more transparency and resulted in many parents adjusting their educational choice as they sought to find the right environment for their child to learn. Some parents chose to switch to homeschooling, many continued with their local district school, and others sought opportunities within the non-public school system.
Last session, legislators listened to the concerns of all of these parents. We began work on a Parental Bill of Rights aimed at guaranteeing a parents’ involvement in their child’s education. In addition, we looked for ways to provide all families with the opportunity to pick the educational setting best suited to their child. The Senate has long supported parental choice in education, which has been upheld as a parent’s right by nearly every court decision on the subject. All Iowans family should have the opportunity to send their children to the school of that best meets their needs and reflects their family’s values and moral fiber. This should not be exclusive to families with the financial means to pay for tuition or transportation or to those families who can afford to move to a better zip code.
This session’s work will seek to maximize educational opportunities for all children and ensure that students whose needs are not being met can find the option that serves them best. Income should not impact children’s access to the educational institution that will best fit their needs. In a 2021 survey, 46% of parents said they would send their children to a private school if costs were not a factor. Currently, only 8% of families in our state were able to make that alternative choice. The divide between what is and what parents desire should stand as a wakeup call in this conversation. The fact is Iowa already invests in non-public educational opportunities for Iowa students. Both our statewide preschools for 4-year-olds and the Iowa Tuition Grant and various state loan repayment programs at the post-secondary level utilize non-public providers. It’s now time to expand those scholarships so all Iowa families can meet their children’s needs with the K-12 opportunities that lie between preschool and college.
As we continue to find ways to support Iowa families, we also need to look at ways to help stabilize finances and Iowa’s economy in a time of excessive federal spending. Senate Republicans have always prioritized responsible budgeting, which has put our state in a strong position to make historic tax reforms while fully funding our priorities in education, healthcare, and public safety. We enter this session with our rainy-day funds filled to the statutory maximum, a healthy projected ending balance for FY23, and a healthy projected surplus for FY24. These numbers can all be credited to responsible and sustainable budgeting while delivering on our promises of tax relief for working Iowans.
Senate Republicans have delivered three historic tax cuts that resulted in Iowans keeping more of their hard-earned dollars to invest in their communities, futures, and families. Last year, we reduced income taxes for working families and eliminated the retirement income tax altogether so our grandparents aren’t forced to leave the state to protect their incomes. We will continue to explore ways to reduce the tax burden on hardworking Iowa families and businesses. With rising assessments, Senate Republicans are listening to the concerns of the taxpayer and now look to reduce the property tax burden in a meaningful way. Keeping residential, agricultural, and commercial property taxes at a low rate will make Iowa more competitive in the nation’s economy.
In the end, it should be our goal to make Iowa THE place to raise your family, invest in your education, start and grow your business, live a meaningful life, and retire with financial stability. I look forward to the work that will be done this session to accomplish those goals. It is an honor to serve with all of you as we continue the journey Senate Republicans began six years ago to make Iowa the best state in the nation.
God Bless you, your families, and this great state.