DES MOINES – Gov. Chet Culver promised Wednesday to push for a major new investment in education if re-elected in November that would include a 4 percent boost in base state aid for Iowa’s K-12 public schools in fiscal 2012.
The first-term Democrat also pledged support for moving Iowa toward universal preschool, raising graduation rates for minority students, eliminating the so-called “achievement gap” by improving curriculum, programs and instruction, boosting professional development, and emphasizing money management for Iowa students.
“I want to see Iowa at the top of every list of states that are doing things right in education,” the governor said.
To that end, Culver told the School Administrators of Iowa and later the Iowa State Education Association he pledged a commitment of 4 percent in “allowable growth” funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2011. He estimated the price tag would range between $300 million and $400 million.
“I think that we have to do all we can to make sure that we make the investment in our students, in our schools, and in our teachers across this state,” Culver told more than 500 SAI leaders at a downtown conference. “I believe as the economy continues to improve, we will be in a position to do that. It’s all about priorities and, when it comes to education, that will continue to be at the very top of my list.”
A 4 percent increase in fiscal 2012 likely would total about a $340 million investment for fiscal 2012 if previous state aid shortfall was “backfilled” and one-time federal stimulus funds were replaced with state money, according to Legislative Services Agency estimates. Each 1 percent in “allowable growth” funding represents about $30 million.
Currently, per-pupil funding to Iowa’s 361 K-12 school districts stands at $5,883, according to Shawn Snyder, who tracks K-12 education funding issues for the Legislative Services Agency. Increasing that investment by 4 percent in fiscal 2012 would raise that figure by $235 -- a $6,118 cost for each student attending elementary and secondary public schools.
Culver said he believed the state could afford to make that level of investment in education because Iowa economy is showing signs of rebound, employers are beginning to hire again, new businesses are locating here, and Iowa scores high among national gauges of economic recovery and vitality.
“We have weathered the storm,” he said. “Iowa is back. We’re growing again.”
However, Jeff Boeyink, manager of the Gov. Branstad 2010 campaign, was unconvinced by what he considered to be “hollow promises” by a candidate trying to curry favor from educators.
“Gov. Culver has broken too many of his educational promises to be trusted to get it right the next four years,” he said in a statement.
The goal of Branstad, who served as Iowa’s governor from 1983 to 1999, is to again make Iowa’s education system the best in the country and he plans to unveil his agenda in the coming weeks for achieving that ambitious goal, Boeyink added.
“Gov. Culver has failed to keep his many educational promises to teachers, students and parents, and today again offered more of the same,” Boeyink said. “He has failed teachers with his slashing of school budgets and the significant teacher layoffs that has caused across the state. He has failed school boards with a Race to the Top effort that didn’t bring a single dollar of additional resources for our schools but still shackles local districts with more regulations. And, Gov. Culver has failed parents by signing legislation that means parents will be receiving less information about the performance of their children and their children’s schools.”
Along with increasing K-12 funding, Culver said he also wants to:
- Encourage Iowa high school students to prepare for college by having the state pay for Advanced Placement test fees.
- Expand a voluntary, statewide preschool initiative in every district, so that all 4-year-olds have access to the program.
- Raise the overall graduation rate, and close the graduation rate gap among minority students and those in poverty.
- Help students achieve measurable improvement on test scores each year.
- Make financial literacy a part of Iowa Core Standards.