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Rep. Henry Stone of Forest City describes Iowa education bill, avian influenza

The following is a legislative update from Republican Representative Henry Stone of Forest City, representing portions of Emmet, Kossuth and Winnebago counties in Iowa House District 9:

Rep. Henry Stone (R)

I want to wish everyone a Happy Easter!  I hope you had a wonderful time today with family and friends celebrating the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

On Wednesday, Governor Reynolds signed HF 2612 into law. This bill includes Area Education Agency (AEA) reforms, Supplemental State Aid (SSA), and teacher salary increases.

House Republicans fought hard to raise teacher salaries while also insisting on funding for education support staff such as paraeducators. In year one of implementation, the minimum salary for teachers will be $47,500. For teachers with 12 years of experience or more, the minimum salary will be $60,000. In year two, the minimum salary for teachers will be $50,000. For teachers with 12 years of experience or more, the minimum salary will be $62,000. A concern from superintendents and teachers was salary compaction after the new minimums were put in place.  Additional funding is included in the plan to help districts offset salary compaction. There is also $14 million targeted to education support staff that will be given out to each district based on the number of support staff they have.

SSA is set at 2.5%. SSA is the total state aid from the general fund and is estimated at 43,786,700,000 which is an increase of $119.2 million compared to FY 2024.

The AEA bill is largely what the House originally passed. The language implementing a task force to further study the bill’s provisions along with additional topics remained part of the bill.  By the end of 2024, the task force will develop recommendations to present to the legislature. Schools and AEAs continue to be allowed to utilize shared operations. The Division of Special Education is reinstated at the Department of Education to provide oversight of special education in the state of Iowa. The staff will be not just in Des Moines, but located throughout Iowa.

It was important to House Republicans to have Department of Education staff imbedded within the AEAs and districts to provide oversight, but not services. The AEA chiefs will remain, and when contracts are up, the salaries will be no more than 125% of the superintendents within the region. The AEA boards become advisory in certain capacities, but the AEA chiefs are given the power to make contracts, etc. so no services are impacted and no authority goes away from the AEAs in that capacity. The AEAs may still provide professional development if it is approved by the Department and is on an approved list by the Department. This will help keep professional development for teachers evidenced based.

As for funding, the AEAs will continue to receive 90% of special education funding in year two. There is no change in year one. The school districts will be able to keep that 10% to spend on special education as they see fit for the students they educate. For media and educational services, in year one 60% of the money will go to the district while 40% of the money will go to the AEA. In year two, all the money will go to the district. The funds that districts don’t send on to the AEAs will be able to be used for any general fund purpose. Examples of this include staff salaries and benefits, curriculum materials and special education.  It does not include building improvement and repair, playground equipment, swimming pools, ballfields, or gyms.  This gives the districts more options to cover unique local needs. The bill puts school districts and AEAs in a position where they will have to work collaboratively to determine what services are needed for students and how those services are best delivered.

House Republicans saw the importance of certainty and stability for special education students and parents.  That was the driving force behind keeping special education funding with the AEAs, as well as districts being mandated to use the AEAs for that special education. House Republicans listened to Iowans and fought hard for that part of the bill.

On Monday, March 25, 2024, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) issued a press release in which Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig commented on the announcement made by the USDA regarding the detection of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas: “Our team is actively monitoring this evolving situation regarding the news that dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas have tested positive for Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza . We are communicating with USDA, other states, and industry stakeholders while we learn more and as there are new developments. Protecting Iowa’s livestock farmers from foreign animal disease has been and will continue to be one of my top priorities as secretary.”

We are strongly encouraging industry partners, farmers, and veterinarians to report cattle illnesses quickly to the IDALS at 515-281-5305, so that we can monitor any potential cases.

At this stage, USDA believes that there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health. Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption. Milk from impacted animals is diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the food supply. In addition, pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. Pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce.

The next day, it was reported that avian influenza has spread to goat kids in Minnesota in a yard that was next to a farm that was being depopulated because of avian influenza outbreak. In that case, a backyard farm that included fowl and goats that shared the same drinking receptacle. It is believed that is how the disease was transmitted. In this case the ill goat kid has relatively naïve immune symptoms. The National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) later confirmed H5N1 HPAI, which is the same virus circulating in the national outbreak that began in 2022. Samples from the adult goats were negative for HPAI and all appear healthy; no more sick goat kids have been reported since March 11, 2024.

On Monday, the United States Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) also issued a press release on this issue—’ As of Monday, March 25, 2024, unpasteurized, clinical samples of milk from sick cattle collected from two dairy farms in Kansas and one in Texas, as well as an oropharyngeal swab from another dairy in Texas, have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). Additional testing was initiated on Friday, March 22nd, and over the weekend because farms have also reported finding deceased wild birds on their properties. Based on findings from Texas, the detections appear to have been introduced by wild birds. Initial testing by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans, which would indicate that the current risk to the public remains low.

Federal agencies are also working with state and industry partners to encourage farmers and veterinarians to report cattle illnesses quickly so that we can monitor potential additional cases and minimize the impact to farmers, consumers, and other animals. For the dairies whose herds are exhibiting symptoms, on average about ten percent of each affected herd appears to be impacted, with little to no associated mortality reported among the animals. Milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle to date is too limited to have a major impact on supply and there should be no impact on the price of milk or other dairy products. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and USDA and federal and state partners will continue to share additional updates as soon as information becomes available.

Iowa’s recent significant investment in the Foreign Animal Disease program at IDALS should have created a good foundation to deal with this evolving situation. The state has held annual practices to deal with catastrophic animal disease, which to note the current avian influenza (H5N1 HPAI) outbreak for non-avian species in not yet a major crisis, but livestock producers should be implementing heightened biosecurity practices at this point. It should also be noted that in the last year, detection of the H5N1 HPAI has been increasingly detected in a growing number of mammal animals. In Iowa it has been detected in red foxes and possum. In nearby states, that list grows to include cats and dogs, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. On the nation’s coasts, the disease has shown up in seals, dolphins, grizzlies and Kodiak bears. This suggests that transmission is apt to come from scavenging and depredation of ill fowl by carnivorous mammals.

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