The Gazette Editorial Board
What’s the right amount of state aid for public education in Iowa? Consensus is hard to come by.
But the trend over the past decade-plus certainly is clear: The state’s share of spending on K-12 and higher education declined, both in actual and real dollars. The pattern raises questions all Iowans and policymakers should ponder in determining what course education funding will follow in the next decade.
On the heels of the governor’s Iowa Education Summit, the Iowa Policy Project research group released a report showing a substantial drop in overall state aid to all levels of education from fiscal year 1998 through 2010. We asked researchers to translate the overall numbers into per-pupil assistance, given that enrollment at our public universities and especially at community colleges has increased substantially since 1998, while K-12 enrollment has fallen 14 years in a row.
When adjusted for inflation, state aid to Iowa’s three public universities fell nearly 44 percent per student by fiscal 2010. For community colleges, nearly 57 percent.
State aid dropped in the K-12 sector, too, but much less dramatically — about 6 percent per student.
These numbers may reflect factors such as the economy and tax revenues. Bottom line, they represent what state lawmakers decided to appropriate.
Universities have cut tens of millions from their budgets the past couple of years, and tuition keeps rising faster than inflation to offset the drop in state aid. Students keep shelling out more and piling up debt — the fourth-highest average at graduation in the nation. K-12 districts have made cuts, raised local tax rates and/or dipped into reserves.
Gov. Terry Branstad and other state officials recognize that K-12 student performance has fallen behind many other states. Improvement in K-12 student outcomes and maintaining or enhancing higher education’s quality don’t always correspond directly to the amount of money invested. But certainly there’s a tipping point for resources and results.
So, questions to answer: What do we expect from our education system, how do we get there, how much does that cost and how much should come from state coffers?
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