DES MOINES — Top officials in the state’s public teachers union said the state needs to lock in two years of 6 percent increases in school funding if it wants to help combat poverty in Iowa’s schools.
Iowa Education Association President Tammy Wawro made the comment during a news conference at the association's headquarters in downtown Des Moines Monday where she was joined by other union officials and supporters taking part in a winter clothing drive.
The Des Moines event was one of more than 100 public events put on by teachers’ unions as part of a national “Reclaim the Promise of Public Education” event.
Organizers of the Des Moines event wanted to highlight poverty among children in public schools — hence the winter clothing drive — and they appealed to Des Moines area residents to donate to the cause.
About 16 percent of Iowa’s children live at or below the federal poverty level, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “Kids Count” report. Iowa fares better than the majority of its border states in that regard, with only Minnesota doing better at 15 percent. Child poverty in Missouri is the highest among the group at 23 percent, followed by Illinois at 21 percent, both Nebraska and Wisconsin at 18 percent and South Dakota at 17 percent.
When asked what specific policies the union would advocate for to combat this problem, Wawro said legislators need to set funding formula increases two years in advance.
“At least two years, and we need 6 percent,” she said. “That’s the minimum. You can’t sit down and plan your family budget right before it happens. Our folks need to know, our administrators need to know.”
The funding formula became a bargaining chip this year’s education reform package. Lawmakers and the governor eventually agreed to a 2 percent growth in the base plus a one-time 2 percent addition for the current year and 4 percent for next year.
Joe Henry, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said one of the areas lawmakers need to address is the growing number students who don’t speak English as their first language in public schools.
“We consider this struggle a very important effort,” Henry said. “We are a growing population in Iowa and across the country. Here in Iowa, we have 162,000 folks, and one out of every three Latinos is living in poverty, one out of every three Latinos has no health care. We’ll be mobilizing on the state and the national level.”
Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad, said “no final decisions have been made” on school funding or any other matter relating to the state budget.
“In fact, we’re still holding budget hearings right now,” he said.
“We know that children that come to school with their bellies full, the fingers warm and their feet dry have an advantage,” Warwo said. “We’re all in this together.”National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel was scheduled to be at the Des Moines event, but weather-related problems made the morning flight in from Washington, D.C., impossible. The 3.2 million-member NEA is the largest labor union in the United States. Van Roekel was born in Le Mars, Iowa, and is a graduate of the University of Iowa.