State funding shortages worry schools

‘Allowable growth’ changes creating uncertainty for education leaders

Rod Boshart
Published: December 10 2012 | 5:05 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:12 am in

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad’s call to replace the current method of setting per-pupil funding increases for K-12 school districts has upped the uncertainty for administrators, teachers and school boards already trying to keep tabs of sweeping reform proposals likely to be considered when the 2013 Legislature convenes next month.

Under Iowa’s K-12 education forward-funding law, the Legislature was supposed to already have adopted an “allowable growth” rate to guide fiscal 2014 budget decisions in Iowa’s 348 school districts.

However, that requirement went ignored last session as lawmakers transition to biennial budgeting, and since then Branstad has indicated he favors scrapping the allowable growth approach in favor of a new method that targets resources to public schools in ways that improve student achievement, not just provide more money.

Branstad and his aides say the governor’s education reform and funding recommendations will be spelled out when he submits his two-year budget proposal to lawmakers in January.

But Democrats who control the Iowa Senate have expressed resistance to ending K-12 financing approach that has been in place since 1973, and school leaders say the uncertainty already has caused them to move back collective bargaining talks and put other decisions for the 2013-14 school year on hold.

“I think there’s a lot of stress,” said Dan Smith, executive director of the School Administrators of Iowa. “The last couple of years we’ve had either no allowable growth or very low allowable growth, and so the basic funding for schools has been very short, very small over the last couple of years.”

If the governor and split-control Legislature are unable to reach an agreement on “allowable growth” funding, the law requires that the issue default to zero percent for regular school aid and categorical funding.

Preliminary estimates issued by the Legislative Services Agency indicate that a zero allowable growth for fiscal 2014 would keep per-pupil funding at $6,001, but still would require $6.5 million in state aid and $58.9 million in property tax revenue next fiscal year under the school foundation aid formula.

Setting allowable growth at 2 percent would cost $72.8 million in state aid and $48.4 million in property taxes to raise per-pupil funding to $6,121, while a 4 percent boost would require a $140 million increase in state aid and $49 million in local property taxes to increase per-pupil funding by $240 to $6,241, according to the LSA analysis.

Senate President Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said it’s too early to say how education-related issues will unfold in the coming session, but his caucus believes local districts should determine the policies and make the decisions they think will best ensure a good education for their students

“Doing away with the allowable growth mechanism means we’re really kind of taking over how local schools are run, so I’d say we’ll certainly have some resistance to that, but the governor can choose to sign or veto or whatever he wants to do,” he said.

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