Capitol Notebook: State funds available for computer science


COMPUTER SCIENCE: The state is making more than a half-million dollars available to prepare K-12 teachers to teach computer science.

“Computer science is a basic skill set necessary for student success and an added advantage for recruitment in high-demand careers in the rapidly changing, technology-driven workplace,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said. “These awards equip more educators with the tools and resources needed to prepare K-12 students in computer science.”

“Through computer science, students build critical thinking, problem-solving and reasoning skills that are transferable across academic disciplines and fields,” added Ann Lebo, director of the Iowa Department of Education.

Reynolds and the department have announced $506,084 in annual awards to prepare K-12 teachers in 136 school districts and non-public schools to teach computer science.

The Computer Science Professional Development Incentive Fund awards are part of a commitment to expand computer science instruction in K-12 schools. In 2017, SF 274 established the fund to pay for teacher professional development, including training to teach specific computer science courses and earning in-depth university endorsements to teach computer science. In 2020, Reynolds proposed and the Legislature passed HF 2629 requiring K-12 schools to offer computer science education to all students, starting with high schools in 2022-23.

COLLEGE SAVINGS PLAN: For the ninth time in 16 years, the College Savings Iowa 529 plan has reduced its fees for participants.

“By reducing fees, we’re making it possible for families to keep more money in their accounts,” Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald said. “Every little bit saved can go a long way to help Iowans afford the educational adventure of a lifetime.”

Effective April 1, the annual asset-based fee on the plan’s investment options will decrease 5.5 percent, which brings the price down from 0.19 percent to 0.18 percent or $1.80 per $1,000 invested annually.

Since Fitzgerald started the plan, College Savings Iowa has grown to over $6.3 billion in assets, with over $3.8 billion having been used for education expenses.

Iowa taxpayers who are College Savings Iowa participants can deduct the first $3,522 they contribute per beneficiary account from their state taxable income in 2022, subject to federal tax regulations.

For more information, visit https://www.collegesavingsiowa.com/.

TITLING FEES: A bill to increase the cost of registering vehicle titles and obtaining a certificate of title was approved by the House Ways and Means Committee over Democratic objections. HF 870 would allow Iowans to register their vehicles’ titles at any county treasurer’s office.

Fees, which in some cases haven’t increased since 1989, would provide $22 million to county budgets, relieving pressure for property tax increases, said Rep. Jane Bloomingdale, R-Northwood.

However, Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, pointed out the fees are based on vehicle prices, which have increased significantly in the past year or two.

“The timing is not right for nickeling and diming Iowans with $5 and $10 increases for the privileges of paying so much more to register their vehicles,” he said.

The bill, approved 14-8, would raise the fees for a new registration, new title, replacement title and salvage title, manufacturer buyback and security interest. The fees now range from $1 to $11, with most being $7.50.

LEGALIZED MARIJUANA: Senate Democrats took their crack at proposing legalized recreational marijuana in Iowa during debate over a bill on criminal penalties for possession of heroin.

Since the minority Democrats are unable to set the legislative agenda, they chose the heroin bill for their amendment that would regulate marijuana similar to the way alcohol is regulated in the state. Majority Republicans shot down the proposed amendment with a procedural move, ruling it was not relevant to the original bill.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, was among the Democrats who spoke in favor of the proposal. He called the prohibition of marijuana a “costly failure.”

“It has broken up too many families, upended too many livelihoods, thrown too many children into poverty,” Bolkcom said of the enforcement of marijuana laws. He also noted data that shows marijuana laws disproportionately impact Black Iowans, who are seven times more likely to be arrested for possession marijuana, the worst disparity in the nation, even though Black and white people use marijuana at similar rates, according to a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The bill, HF 2462, passed the Senate by a 44-5 vote.

TAX CODE CHANGES: The Senate passed legislation that would address myriad items in the state tax code, including exempting some products from the state sales tax, expanding the items and services used in food manufacturing that are exempt from the sales tax, exempting up to $20,000 in National Guard pay from the state income tax, expanding a capital gains individual income tax exemption for certain stock sales, and reducing the bank franchise tax rate.

SF 2372 passed on a 43-6 vote.

Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, called the legislation a “continuation of rebuilding Iowa’s tax code for a better tax code for the 21st century.”





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