Lawmakers mull education funding
DES MOINES — State Sen. Rich Taylor of Mt. Pleasant voted Wednesday to approve a 6 percent increase in local school funding. (Senate Files 2079 and 2077).
Taylor also successfully approved using additional state dollars to prevent any related property tax increase (SF 2078).
The 6 percent increase would be welcome news for Iowa’s community schools, said Taylor. Since 2011, local school funding in Iowa has suffered compared to other parts of state government. Iowa has fallen to 37th in the nation in terms of per pupil spending.
“Iowa is more than $1,500 below the national average in terms of how much we invest per student,” said Taylor in a news release. “We should return to putting our local students first with regard to the state budget.”
A 6 percent increase in school funding is feasible because Iowa’s finances are very sound, said Fairfield school district superintendent Art Sathoff.
“It may not be politically feasible in terms of getting passed by the House and approved by the governor,” Sathoff added.
“Districts have been underfunded in recent years, and Taylor notes the national discrepancy.”
Wednesday, the Senate obeyed the 20-year old state law requiring the Legislature to set local school funding 18 months in advance, said Taylor.
“We’ve also approved enough dollars to start repairing damage from several lean years while also implementing last year’s educational reforms,” said Taylor.
A survey of Iowa school superintendents this week found that 98.6 percent believe Iowa should return to budgeting ahead for local school funding.
In recent years, Republican lawmakers have defied the advance budgeting law and K-12 education funding has become entangled with other partisan disagreements.
The superintendent survey found that educators overwhelmingly believe that predictable, sustained state investment in education is the most effective way to increase Iowa student achievement.
“Allowable growth” has become a mix of local property taxes, and state aid is becoming state supplemental aid, funded totally by the state, said Sathoff.
“I understand the desire to keep local property taxes now, but I think it’s a shame that adequately funding our schools is such a political football,” he said.
Taylor said he voted for higher student achievement and more financial stability in school budgets.
“These are the dollars that buy the basics — paying teachers, purchasing up-to-date textbooks, keeping the lights on and gassing up buses,” said Taylor. “It is time to put politics aside, follow the law and support students who will be the foundation of a strong Iowa economy.”
Under current state law, the Legislature is required to set school funding within 30 days after the governor’s budget is presented. For the 2014 session, that day is Feb. 13.