By Randy Bauer, Mary Meisterling, Barry Buchholz, and Dan Barkley
Education funding in Iowa is being impacted by political posturing between the Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad.
Like all other governmental entities in Iowa, school districts operate on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30. According to Iowa Code Section 257.8, the Legislature must determine the level of school funding within 30 days of the governor presenting his budget. It was introduced in January. This funding is termed allowable growth, which sets a district’s budget.
According to Iowa Code, the Legislature should have set allowable growth by the end of February for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014. However, the Legislature has not only failed to set school funding levels for that fiscal year but has also failed to set school funding levels for the fiscal year that begins July 1!
This is the second year the governor and the Legislature have failed to fulfill their responsibilities to school districts and the students in Iowa. It is disappointing to see the highest elected officials in our state simply ignore the law. If the governor and the Legislature disagree with the school funding law, then they should follow the democratic process and change the law.
Branstad has repeatedly said that education reform must be adopted before school funding occurs. School officials, teachers and school boards across the state feel strongly that funding must be considered on its own merit and not in conjunction with other legislation. The Legislature should not hold our public institutions in deadlock as they battle out reform measures.
Over the past three years, education has been funded at the lowest level in the 40-year history of the school aid formula. In the late 1980s Iowa was as high as eighth in the United States in education funding on a per student basis. We now stand at 31st. Iowa invests about $1,000 per student less than the national average and that gap is widening.
Before the recent economic downturn, allowable growth on average was set at 4 percent per year. We in education understand that during the tough economic times, we are all expected to make sacrifices and we have done so. However, lower education funding levels and an increase in expectations have left school districts with little capacity to fund programs and respond to the needs of our students. The state treasury is expected to close the current fiscal year on June 30 with a balance of more than $1 billion. The state is now in a position to increase education funding to 4 percent allowable growth.
Why is on-time funding important? School district budgets must be approved and certified by April 15, collective bargaining agreements must be negotiated, and staffing and program decisions need to be made. Unless the Legislature acts promptly, school districts must assume the worst, perhaps even reducing staff and cutting programs in the next few weeks.
The governor and legislators continue to claim that they support education. If education is truly a priority, then funding should be prioritized and adopted in compliance with Iowa law.
What can you do to help? Contact your legislator at www.legis.iowa.gov, call the House Switchboard at 515-281-3221, the Senate Switchboard at 515-281-3371 or the Governor’s Office at 515-281-5211 and ask them to fund education at a 4 percent allowable growth rate and on time.
Submitted jointly by the school board presidents of four districts: Randy Bauer, College Community; Mary Meisterling, Cedar Rapids Community; Barry Buchholz, Linn-Mar Community; and Dan Barkley, Marion Independent. Comments: email@example.com MMeisterling@cr.k12.ia.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com