Don't hold school districts hostage

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 30 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 10:43 am in
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The Gazette Editorial Board

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We appreciate much of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad’s education reform efforts.

His push this legislative session to pay teachers more and implement a structure that provides more teacher development and leadership opportunities could make a positive difference for students and the teaching profession. We don’t see it as truly transformative for boosting student achievement, but it can be a piece of a broader solution.

Approving money for the five-year, $187 million reform proposal, however, is separate from the annual funding decision for regular school operations. By state law, this so-called “allowable growth,” based on per-pupil formula with most of the funding from the state, is supposed to be made within 30 days after the Legislature convenes. It’s also supposed to be a figure applicable for the fiscal year 1 1/2 years out. This year’s session began Jan. 14.

Trouble is, no allowable-growth decision was made last year, so the default is zero growth for the school year that begins July 1. And now the governor wants legislators to approve reform before deciding allowable growth. During a visit with our editorial board last week, he also said he believes both of those things could be done before March 1.

Maybe so.

But if it doesn’t work out that way, the governor and legislators should not hold hostage the allowable growth decision, at least for the next school year. School administrators rightly point out that many fixed operating costs increase despite cutting expenses elsewhere. They and their school boards need to know what figures to work with as they negotiate teacher and staff contracts and plan a budget, which must be certified by April 15.

Districts already have been dealing with lean state aid increases the past two years. And any reform plan won’t begin until the 2014-15 school year anyway.

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