The Iowa House unanimously passed the The Future Ready Iowa Act (HF 2458) this week, a landmark piece of legislation that has been an integral part of Governor Kim Reynolds’ administrative priorities and instrumental part of her campaign for re-election. The bill now awaits passage on the Senate floor, after being approved by committee, ensuring the legislation survives the second funnel deadline.

The bipartisan bill is a multifaceted approach to reach the ‘ambitious’ goal of 70 percent of the state’s workforce obtaining education or training beyond high school by the year 2025, specifically with the aim of placing newly educated Iowans into careers of “high-demand” in the state. According to both public and private stakeholders, Iowa’s percentage of persons with post-secondary degrees and certificates is at 58 percent. The bill places the responsibilities of creating and defining “high-demand” jobs with the Workforce Development Board, which must generate a new list every year. In addition, the bill allows community colleges to create their own individual “high-demand” career fields in their respective regions of no more than five areas of employment.

The bill features two phases that take place in fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020, and requires new funding items at the discretion of the the legislature as a whole. In fiscal year 2019, Reynolds recommends $2.6 million in funding, and in fiscal year 2020, recommends $18 million in funds.

Though the support for the bill was bipartisan, Representative Chris Hall (D-District 13) warned the House that the bill requires adequate funding if it’s to accomplish what it’s intended to.

“I do want to offer a little bit of caution,” Hall said. “I think reading what the governor proposed for her budget, this is an effort that in order to undertake it, she budgeted $18 million in fiscal year 2020. $18 million is not something we’ve been able to come by very easily in the last two years of this legislature. If we’re not able to find funding to back up the policy, this is something that is really just lip service.”

The last two years have required mid-year deappropriation packages in order to avoid the state overspending, which has resulted in cuts across the board, especially to public universities and community colleges. In the current legislative year, though a deappropriations bill has not been agreed upon by either chamber, there are proposed cuts to public universities and community colleges, as well as $10 million in reappropriations from the Iowa Skilled Worker and Job Creation Funds.

Fiscal Year 2019 programs
According to Reynolds’ Special Assistant for Education, Linda Fandel, the fiscal year 2019 portion of the legislation will need $2.6 million in allocations. This first phase would include the implementation of the Registered Apprenticeship Program, the Volunteer Mentoring Program, and the Summer Youth Internship Pilot Program.

Registered Apprenticeship Program: This program is administered by the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) and would provide financial assistance to incentivize small and medium sized apprenticeship businesses to add apprentice positions to increase the number of “high-quality,” work-based learning experiences for those ages 16 and older. The apprenticeship must be on the list of apprenticeships with the U.S. Department of Labor, and must be for apprentice occupations that have fewer than 20 apprentices registered in the state.

Volunteer Mentorship Program: This program creates a volunteer mentorship program run by the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Services that will aid in the future implementation of the Future Ready Iowa Skilled Workforce Last-Dollar Scholarship Fund and the Future Ready Iowa Skilled Workforce Grant Programs. The program sets up relationships of approved mentors with mentees who are enrolled in Future Ready Iowa scholarship and grant programs in order to meet grant requirements and create work-based learning opportunities, as well as make career-oriented relationships.

Summer Youth Internship Pilot Program: This program would be managed by the Department of Workforce Development and would offer youths who are at risk of not graduating from high school, come from low income households, belong to “under-represented communities,” or face barriers to success or upward mobility internship opportunities to explore and partake in high-demand career fields to gain work experience and develop career-oriented attributes.

Fiscal year 2020 programs
According to Fandel, this portion of the legislation is recommended by Reynolds to be funded at $18 million and includes several state-sponsored scholarship and grant programs to encourage youths leaving high school, as well as adults who did not seek secondary education after graduating high school.

Future Ready Iowa Skilled Workforce Last-Dollar Scholarship Program: This program is for the completion of associate degrees only, that lead to employments in high-demand jobs, and is available to those who have just graduated high school and want to enroll into public or private degree programs at community college or other accredited, in-state colleges, as well as adult learners who have graduated high school but have not obtained a secondary education degree. The program requires that participants in the program apply for all available federal and state, as well as institutional, financial aid. If and when a participant receives financial aid, they will receive funds from the scholarship program. Should the state change the list of high-demand jobs while a student is in a program for a removed job, the student will continue receiving funds until they complete their program, on time.

Future Ready Iowa Skilled Workforce Grant Program: This program works in the same matter as the scholarship program but is for participants who have half or more of the necessary credits to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in a high-demand career field, and only applies to individuals who have not been enrolled in a postsecondary institution as least 24 months prior to applying for the program. For both programs, if a student leaves the degree program before completion, there is a method calculated that requires educational institutions to pay back the funds allocated.

Employer Innovation Fund: This program expands the opportunities for credit and non-credit learning opportunities leading to Iowa residents obtaining jobs in high-demand careers.