Branstad says Iowa can’t afford 6 percent aid increase for schools

'We may not be able to afford' higher support levels

Rod Boshart
Published: January 27 2014 | 12:18 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:44 am in
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Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday the state cannot afford to increase supplemental aid to K-12 public schools by 6 percent in fiscal 2016, as Senate Democrats have proposed.

Democrats, who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate, were slated to begin work this week on legislation that sought to boost the state aid to schools by 6 percent for the 2015-16 school year that begins on July 1, 2015. A Legislative Services Agency analysis estimated the Democratic package would increase the proposed fiscal 2016 general fund appropriation for school aid by $222.5 million.

“There is not adequate funding in (the state’s five-year budget projections) to increase spending in schools by 6 percent a year,” Branstad told reporters on Monday. “I think it is important that we implement what we committed to last year rather than take on new things that we may not be able to afford.”

A Senate Education subcommittee was scheduled this afternoon to consider a trio of measures that would boost funding for the “allowable growth” of K-12 schools’ base budgets and for the categorical funding that schools receive for supplemental teacher salaries, professional development, early-intervention and teacher leadership programs by 6 percent. A third measure would earmark state money to replace local property tax obligations under the current school foundation formula.

If approved, state aid per pupil in Iowa’s public elementary and secondary schools would increase by $382 to $6,748 for each student. Last session the split-control Legislature passed, and Branstad signed, a 4 percent increase for the current and next school years that will increase basic state aid by $245 per pupil to $6,366.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds noted Monday that last session’s work on education reform included investments at “historic levels,” while House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, warned that a 6 percent boost in state aid for schools could create another situation where funding would have to be cut back later if state tax collections lag.

“I don’t see any scenario where we’re in a position to commit to something like that,” Paulsen said.

“We’re not going to go back to the days where we make big promises and then fail to follow through on them,” he added. “When the Democrats controlled everything and Chet Culver was the governor, that’s what they did – they’d overpromised and under-delivered” resulting in a 10 percent across-the-board cut. “We’re not going back to that.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, told reporters this week that Iowa’s per-pupil spending currently lags behind the national average by about $1,500. He said he expected the Senate to take up the school aid measures next week and send them to the House for consideration as is required by state law.

Iowa’s forward-funding law requires the Legislature to establish a future financing level for elementary and secondary schools within 30 days after the governor submits his budget plan – something Gov. Terry Branstad did on Jan. 14. In recent years, the governor and legislative Republicans have ignored the law, opting in favor of a biennial approach that avoids overpromising schools state aid before a clearer picture of state tax collections is available.

“I understand the politics of this,” Branstad said of the outcry over state elected officials' failure to follow their own law, noting that Democrats also put off the school aid decision when Culver was governor and they controlled both legislative houses and repeatedly used “notwithstanding” provisions to bypass the state’s 99 percent spending limitation law.

Branstad said the education forward-funding law that he pushed and signed in the 1990s is not “out-moded” and should be changed so state school aid increases do not automatically trigger higher property taxes as currently prescribed by state law.

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