If not allowable growth, then what?

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 14 2012 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:21 am in

Gazette Editorial Board

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We are puzzled by Gov. Terry Branstad’s announcement that he wants to do away with the current system of funding our K-12 schools.

We don’t like the idea of tying student performance to funding, as the governor has suggested. Already, schools, subject to the whims and political posturing of state legislators, have trouble planning their budgets from year to year.

And we hope this isn’t simply one more attempt to centralize power in Des Moines and further reduce local control over our children’s education.

Even though the governor is still working on the proposal’s details, we’re skeptical of this idea.

We agree with the governor that school districts should run efficient operations that direct the most possible resources to areas where they will most affect student achievement. But we think most of those decisions are better left to the districts.

During a question-answer session at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Des Moines this week, Branstad said that his staff is working on a proposal that would eliminate allowable growth — the legislatively directed percentage that a school district’s budget can increase in a given year — from the state school funding formula.

Branstad called allowable growth “an automatic increase in property tax.” Property tax reform is another of the governor’s legislative priorities.

He said he’d like to develop a new school funding method that targets funds in ways that improve student achievement.

But districts should have discretion in how they spend money to educate their students. Allowable growth allows schools to better plan for increased costs for infrastructure and operations. And after a few leaner budget years, school districts have few options for cutting expenses or finding other funding sources.

Cedar Rapids school district officials, for example, recently announced that with cash reserves at their lowest balance in eight years, the district will face some very tough decisions in crafting their FY 2014 budget. Their situation is mirrored in many rural and urban districts across the state.

We’re open to considering a more detailed plan from the governor. But we don’t want to see the diverse needs of Iowa’s K-12 districts shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all budget mechanism.

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