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Senate panel advances bill to change community college funding oversight


Senate panel advances bill to change community college funding oversight

Feb 27, 2024 | 5:41 pm ET
By Brooklyn Draisey
Senate panel advances bill to change community college funding oversight
A bill that would create a community college presidents council to create the state aid distribution formula has passed out of subcommittee. (Photo illustration via Canva)

A bill allowing a council of community college leaders to determine the formula for distributing state funds each year has passed out of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate File 2373 would form a “presidents council” of community college presidents and chancellors that would be responsible for creating the formula for distribution of state funds to the state’s community colleges. The council would require 10 out of its 15 members to approve the formula each year, with the duty falling to the Department of Education if an agreement isn’t reached.

It would also strike the current aid formula, which Community Colleges for Iowa Executive Director Emily Shields said has not been updated in 20 years, and its requirements from Iowa Code.

Representatives from community colleges and organizations overseeing them voiced their support for the bill, saying it will help lessen inequities in funding between the colleges. Iowa Central Community College President Jesse Ulrich said the college currently receives about $2,700 per student in state funding compared to a neighboring college that receives more than $6,000.

“What hopefully our Legislature is recognizing is, we know that there is a problem, and your community college system is taking proactive steps to fix the problem,” Ulrich said.

The legislation was signed by subcommittee chair Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, and Sen. Jeff Taylor, R-Sioux Center. Taylor said what gave him confidence in the bill was the fact that the community college leaders are unanimous in their support of it.

Subcommittee member Sen. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said she’d like to see the bill require the Division of Higher Education to handle the formula if the council cannot approve of one, rather than leaving it to the Department of Education, in order to ensure the people with the most expertise would be making the decision.

Another question she brought up related to high school students enrolled in both high school and college classes. Currently, concurrently enrolled students are included in headcounts for community college funding, but the money those programs generate goes through K-12 funding channels, Winckler said, and those dollars are not accounted for in the bill.

Those funds totaled around $40 million in fiscal year 2021, Winckler said, and they need to be a part of this conversation.

She also expressed concerns about the lack of stability and predictability that could come from striking requirements of the funding formula from the code, even if agreements have been made among college leaders to not allow any backwards movement in funding to happen at any college.

Ulrich said these agreements have been made, but Winckler said they should be put in writing under administrative rules or another label, so those agreements are protected as administrations change.

“We wouldn’t want to do anything that suddenly closes the doors of a rural community college because we understand the importance of the workforce training and what we do all across the state,” Ulrich said.

Kraayenbrink said the subcommittee would recommend its passing with an amendment, in which some of the questions brought up could be addressed. The bill will move ahead to the Senate Appropriations Committee.