DES MOINES – Legislative Democrats released a survey of Iowa school superintendents Tuesday indicating they overwhelmingly believe lawmakers should set basic school aid for schools for fiscal 2016 this session as required by state law.
“Delaying allowable growth creates nothing but chaos for budget planning, program planning, contract negotiations, etc.,” said Iowa Falls school superintendent John Robbins in his survey response. “How in the world are we supposed to be serious about implementing school improvement initiatives when we have no idea of the financial resources that are available?”
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said 98 percent of the 214 superintendents who responded to their survey oppose the position by House Republicans and Gov. Terry Branstad to wait until the 2015 legislative session to set state aid for the 2015-2016 school year.
Democrats who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate have slated floor debate Wednesday on a package of bills that would boost base budgets and categorical funding by 6 percent for K-12 school districts in fiscal 2016. A companion measure would replace local property taxes prescribed by the school foundation aid formula with state dollars.
“Democrats are focused on student achievement and that’s why the Iowa Senate will take action this week to increase school funding by 6 percent,” said Quirmbach, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and an Iowa State University economist who called the state aid boost affordable given there will be two years worth of state revenue to fund the proposal.
The deadline to pass the school aid bill this year to comply with state law is Feb. 13.
Gov. Terry Branstad says the state cannot afford to increase supplemental aid to K-12 public schools by 6 percent, or $222.5 million, in fiscal 2016 as Senate Democrats have proposed, while legislative Republicans say they want to know how much revenue will be available before setting school funding nearly two years out.
Democrats say they plan to abide by Iowa’s forward-funding law that 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.
“We will cut staff without at least 4 percent growth,” said Iner Joelson, superintendent of the Laurens-Marathon Community School District. “With the current 4 percent this year, we will be short $52,000 in our budget. If I cannot count on 4 percent or better for next year’s budget, we will hand out pink slips this year. No games, no threats, but reality.”
Steckman, ranking member of the House Education Committee, said the message from superintendents was clear that they do not want a delay in this year’s school-funding decision.
“We’ve made some big changes in education and now we should provide financial stability so schools successfully enact those changes and make sure every kid graduates with the skills needed to land a good job,” Steckman said.