Gov. Terry Branstad
Gov. Terry Branstad
September 3, 2013

Gov. Terry Branstad tells the Daily Times Herald he would consider expanding state funding for private K-12 school busing to extracurricular activities.

As it stands, the state reimburses public school districts for instructional-based transportation, essentially regular school-day routes. Branstad said sports and other activities could be added to the reimbursement eligibility. The state does not reimburse for non-instructional activities.

"I'm open to look at that," Branstad said during an interview in Carroll. "Obviously, we've got to look at what the costs are and all of that sort of stuff. That's the first time that's been brought up to me, so I haven't really had a chance to really analyze."

Branstad, a five-term Republican who described himself as a "pro-life Catholic" during a town hall at the Carroll Chamber of Commerce last week, said he is strongly supportive of non-public school funding.

"I was one of the original sponsors of it, both textbooks and transportation for non public," Branstad said. "I'm very supportive of that, and I'd be very willing to look at that."

The Iowa Catholic Conference lists support for full funding of public schools for the transportation of non-public school students as a top legislative priority this year.

Branstad and Kuemper Catholic School System president Vern Henkenius noted that the Legislature did increase non-public transportation reimbursement funding from $7 million to $8.6 million for fiscal year 2013-2014.

In the last fiscal year, the Iowa Legislature appropriated $7 million to the non-public transportation reimbursement fund, said Iowa Department of Education communications director Staci Hupp.

Hupp said the department received $10 million in reimbursement requests for that period. The department is forced to pro-rate the reimbursements equally to all districts that seek them, she said.

The Carroll Community School District in fiscal year 2011-2012 requested $294,890 - the full cost of transporting Kuemper students - from the state for non-public school transportation route miles and received back 69 percent that ask, or $202,093. The remaining $92,797 was covered through general fund monies in the Carroll Community School District, said CCSD business manager Gary Bengtson.

Bengtson said the legislative appropriation never covers the requests from districts around Iowa with parochial populations.

"If they would fully fund that, that would alleviate a lot of the problem," Bengtson.

The governor said he always has been impressed with the working relationship between Carroll High School and Kuemper Catholic High School.

Moving on to the 2014 U.S. Senate race in Iowa, where the GOP field continues to develop, Branstad, who ostensibly says he is neutral in the primary, refers to State Sen. Joni Ernst, a Red Oak Republican, as a "particularly intriguing" candidate.

"What intrigues me is she's a woman who's a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard," Branstad said. "And she's a veteran of Iraq. So I think she's get some unique characteristics that other people don't have. She's also a great shot, for what that's worth. Not that that's really a qualification to be a United States senator. But I think she's smart. She's a hard worker."

The governor added, "I think she's got a lot of the same characteristics I see in the lieutenant governor (Kim Reynolds). Obviously they're from the same area, and they're friends."

Ernst, 43, a former Montgomery County auditor who succeeded Reynolds in the Iowa Senate, served as a company commander during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Her unit was tasked with running convoys through Kuwait and into southern Iraq, Ernst says on her campaign website.

Iowa joins Mississippi as the only two states to have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate, U.S. House or as governor.

"I think it's just a matter of time and that's going to change," Branstad said. "I think this time we've got a lieutenant governor that we're working hard to groom to have that opportunity in the future."