DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ Gov. Terry Branstad's budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year leave out direct funds for a bullying prevention office he created months ago through an executive order, and it is unclear how the office will be financially supported in the future.
Branstad did not direct money from the general fund to the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Northern Iowa in his recent budget proposal. The center, which requested $250,000, was tasked by Branstad to start managing the new Governor's Office for Bullying Prevention.
Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Branstad, said the governor expects the violence prevention center _ and subsequently the bullying office _ to be funded under a proposed $8 million request of new money for the Board of Regents, which oversees Iowa's three public universities.
That $8 million, which is included in Branstad's proposed budget, is supposed to be divided among the three schools, which are seeking a combined $20 million in new state dollars for the fiscal year that begins in July. The initial requested money, which included roughly $7.6 million from UNI for tasks like financial aid, admissions and student retention, was separate from the violence prevention center's request to permanently fund itself and the new bullying office.
When asked if UNI would fund the bullying office with some of the $8 million, UNI spokesman Scott Ketelsen said the university would not comment. He directed questions to the Board of Regents.
The nine-member board has not publicly released information about how it would use the $8 million. Regents spokesman Josh Lehman also said the regents did not receive instructions from Branstad on how to use the money.
Hammes, who said the governor's office ``made some tough decisions to give Iowans a stable budget,'' could not guarantee the regents money would fund the bullying office.
``There is no guarantee of anything. Again, the board will make those decisions,'' he wrote in an email.
Alan Heisterkamp, director of the Center for Violence Prevention, would not comment directly on Branstad's decision to not include direct dollars for his office. He said via email he plans to visit the Capitol soon along with UNI representatives to speak with lawmakers about still trying to secure the itemized request.
Heisterkamp was vague about whether or not he was told the new regents money would fund his office.
``All I can say is that the process is going to work itself out,'' he said.
Nate Monson, executive director of Iowa Safe Schools, a group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, was critical of Branstad's funding move.
``If the governor is serious about bullying prevention in the state he needs to fully fund research-based solutions to this critical issue,'' he said.
Branstad's announcement of a bullying prevention office in September came after years of inaction in the Legislature, where lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to properly address the issue. His executive order, which he signed in front of dozens of elementary students in Cedar Rapids, caught some advocacy groups by surprise. Some said their offices weren't notified about the order.
Heisterkamp told the AP in the fall that he learned about the creation of the bullying office less than two weeks before Branstad announced his executive order. At the time, another representative for the violence prevention center said there was already infrastructure in place at the center to do meaningful work on bullying prevention.
Branstad made bullying prevention efforts a top legislative priority in the last two sessions, though he didn't mention it in his most recent Condition of the State address.
House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Thursday she doesn't expect her caucus to take up anti-bullying legislation this session because of the new bullying office. She said the governor ``created an opportunity that worked relatively well.''