A roundup of state government and Capitol news items of interest for Wednesday:
READING SKILLS IMPROVE: Students in Iowa’s elementary schools continue to improve their reading skills.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Wednesday that the share of Iowa students in kindergarten through third grade who met or surpassed benchmarks used to measure statewide progress in reading increased from 69.7 percent to 70.5 percent from fall 2017 to spring 2018.
That marked the third straight year that K-3 reading skills have improved with the literacy rate climbing nearly 7 percentage points since 2015.
Iowa school districts and nonpublic schools screen K-3 students in reading three times a year as part of a 2012 law that focuses on making sure all students are reading on grade level by the end of third grade.
Schools now have a new tool to build on early literacy progress with the development of a blueprint to help teachers improve the quality of their reading instruction.
Iowa legislators this year set aside over $300,000 for the blueprint, which equips teachers with effective literacy practices, strengthens their instructional skills and provides schools a starting point for evaluating literacy plans and ensuring developmental milestones are met.
The initiative, led by the Iowa Reading Research Center, includes professional development delivered through a training-of-trainers approach. The blueprint also leverages Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation System because many of the literacy leaders who have been trained to deliver professional development to teachers in their home school districts or area education agency regions this school year also are teacher leaders in the TLC system.
STATE REVENUE RISES: The state treasury is off to a good start in fiscal 2019 with tax collections running 5.4 percent higher in the first two months compared with the previous fiscal year, according to a new monthly revenue report issued by the Legislative Services Agency.
Net general fund receipts were up $24 million for August, which brought the year-to-date tax collections for the first two months of fiscal 2019 to nearly
$1.3 billion — or $65.9 million more than the same period a year ago.
“Everything looks good,” said LSA tax analyst Jeff Robinson, who attributed much of the growth to strong personal income tax collections linked to lower federal tax withholdings that began in February when the federal tax cut package took effect.
Since Iowa allows federal tax liabilities to be deducted from Iowans’ state tax liabilities, the lower federal withholdings have translated into higher personal income taxes collected by the state.
The Iowa Legislature passed and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a state income tax package last session, but those reductions don’t take effect until Jan. 1.
Along with a 6.4 percent boost (or $42 million) in personal income tax collections, state sales tax collections were up 4.6 percent (or $25.3 million) and state corporate income tax receipts approached a 40 percent upward spike (or $16 million) for July and August.
Robinson cautioned it is difficult to project an accurate trend line for tax collections until analysts have at least a full quarter worth of data for the new fiscal year.
JUSTICE RESUMES CASE WORK: Iowa Supreme Court Justice Daryl Hecht of Sloan announced Wednesday he will resume hearing cases and participating in the decisions of the Iowa Supreme Court as he continues to battle cancer and receive treatment.
Hecht, 66, has not participated in the oral argument of cases since March 2018, and participated in only a few cases during the remainder of the court term that ended June 30.
Court officials said a justice absent from the oral arguments of a case still may participate in the case if the justice reads the briefs and participates in the court’s discussion. The oral arguments also are recorded and archived for later viewing.
Hecht, who has served on the Iowa Supreme Court since 2006, is receiving treatment for melanoma. He expects that improvement resulting from a new treatment regimen will allow him to take a more active role on the court, according to a Judicial Branch news release.
Hecht expects to participate in oral arguments in Des Moines next week, as well as court conferences.
The new court term began Tuesday.