Iowa legislative state of play on school funding

A standoff over state funding for K-12 education appears unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. The Republican-controlled Iowa House has approved legislation setting “allowable growth” in state funding to school districts at 1.25 percent for fiscal year 2016; the House Journal for January 27 includes details on the debate, during which members rejected on a party-line vote a Democratic amendment to increase school spending, and later approved House File 80, also along party lines. House Republicans reportedly support a 2.45 percent increase in school funding for fiscal year 2017 but have not brought legislation before the full chamber yet.

Meanwhile, Democrats who control the Iowa Senate are committed to setting allowable growth at 4 percent for each of the next two fiscal years. Many education groups have lobbied lawmakers for at least 4 percent allowable growth, and in a Senate Democratic survey of Iowa superintendents, 96 percent of respondents said the appropriate level of supplemental state aid for the coming fiscal year should be 4 percent or higher.

Yesterday four education funding bills passed the upper chamber; a statement enclosed after the jump covers the key points in each bill. The legislation setting allowable growth at 4 percent for fiscal year 2016 and 2017 passed on party-line votes (roll calls are in the Senate Journal). Republicans joined their colleagues to unanimously approve the other two bills, which would “have the state pick up the 12.5 percent property tax share under the state’s foundation aid formula for both fiscal years.” Rod Boshart summed up the bottom line:

Under the GOP approach, current state per-pupil funding of $6,366 would grow by $80 in fiscal 2016 and another $158 in fiscal 2017. By contrast, the Senate’s 4 percent position would boost per-pupil funding to $6,621 for the 2015-16 academic year and $6,886 the following school year.

Or to view it another way, the House approach would include nearly $100 million in additional K-12 school funding for fiscal year 2016, while the Senate approach would provide an additional $212 million this coming year and $217 million the following year.

The obvious compromise would be to increase school aid by somewhere between 2-3 percent for each of the next two years, but Republican lawmakers and Governor Terry Branstad insist there’s no room in the state budget for that much additional spending. Note that no one questioned whether Iowans could afford an extra $100 million in tax cuts, mostly for business, which just passed the Iowa House unanimously.

During yesterday’s debate, Democratic State Senator Tony Bisignano argued that the big commercial property tax cut approved in 2013 will shortchange Iowa students. (Indeed, when that commercial property tax bill passed, many people warned that it would lead to cuts in public services.) State Senator Joe Bolkcom also criticized “messed up” priorities that favor “special interests” in the state tax code. As long as I’ve been paying attention to the Iowa legislature, tax expenditures have always been an easier sell than more money for schools or other public services. That dynamic won’t change this year.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.  

Iowa Senate press release, February 10:

Reversing the slide in support for Iowa’s schools

Prepared remarks by State Senator Tod Bowman, Education Committee Member

and teacher at Maquoketa Community High School

Education funding must always be our state’s #1 priority.

When you consider all funds — regardless of source —  Iowa now invests more than $1,600 per student LESS than national average.

That puts Iowa 35th in per student investment at a time when Iowa’s economy is improving.  

Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools.  This legislation is a serious, meaningful step in the right direction for Iowa schools.

The amount we invest in each Iowa student should be at least at the national average.

We can’t reach that goal in two years, but 4 percent increases in each of the next two years will reverse Iowa’s slide downwards, and start us moving in the right direction when it comes to education.

I have been listening to parents, students, school board members, school administrators, teacher and other concerned Iowans.  They tell me that 1.25 percent growth in school aid, as approved by the House, won’t get the job done in terms of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms.

What can we expect if the Legislature approves only a 1.25 percent increase?

More crowded classrooms, less one-on-one time with teachers, outdated technology and books, and deep cuts in arts, athletics and music.

Since the start of the session, I’ve been hearing from people across Iowa on this important issue. Iowans keep asking me the same question about education funding:   “Is anyone listening?”  

Iowans want to know if anyone is listening when it comes to the education of our children.

For example, I know that at Maquoketa High School, textbooks for the government class haven’t been replaced since 1999.  No 9/11.  No IPods. No Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. No George W. Bush.

I’ve heard from Kristen Rickey, the Superintendent of West Delaware School.

She says her school is starting out at an operating deficit of more than $300,000.

Our current reality at West Delaware:

We have 6th grade class sizes at 29 to 30.

8th grade classes at 30 to 31.

We continually have need for additional music staff  but we simply cannot add anyone.

We started the year with second grade classes at 26-27, but decided we just could not educate students effectively with classes that large so we added a second grade teacher midyear.  That was not ideal, and not good for our students, but we had to hold off as long as we could in the hopes that we could squeak by.  We couldn’t.  

I also heard from Dan Voss, President of the Benton Community School Board.

Mr. Voss wrote in a handwritten letter that in his school district, “anything much under 4 percent will force us to pass a budget guarantee which will cause an increase in property taxes.”

In the same district — Home of the Bobcats!! — Benton Community School Superintendent Gary Zittergruen wrote in an email that TLS funding and the state’s other commitments should not stand in the way of providing adequate and sustaining regular program funding to schools.

In the Maquoketa School District — where my 3 children attend school — Superintendent Chris Hoover wrote this me: “What a huge difference 4 percent would make. I think that 6 straight years of making cuts is plenty. I don’t want to make it year #7.”

Also from my home district, Sarah Hogan — an elementary school teacher — shared these thoughts with me and many of you about how inadequate state funding in recent years has affected her classroom:

“I currently am a support teacher in reading instruction for kindergarten, first, and second grade students.  I have three reading groups and three sections that are devoted to remedial lessons.  With the six groups I have, I see about 35 struggling students each day.  While I am happy to help so many, I am frustrated that I cannot be as effective for these kids as I would like to be.  My school district has about 90 kids at each grade level.  Since SSA and state grant programs have not kept up with inflation, my school board had to cut three reading teachers at the elementary level.”

My colleagues, if you have also been listening to parents, students, school board members, school administrators, teacher and other concerned Iowans, I hope you agree that we must do better for Iowa students than a 1.25 percent increase.

end

Overview of Legislation:

FY16 Allowable Growth/State Supplemental Aid Bill – SF 171

SF 171 sets a 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for the school year beginning on July 1, 2015.  This would increase our investment per pupil by $255 over last year.

FY16 Categorical State Percent of Growth Bill – SF 172

SF 172 sets the state supplemental aid rate for school year beginning on July 1, 2015 for each of the State Categorical Supplements at 4 percent and totals $408.2 million, an increase of $66.4 million compared to the previous year.  Funding amounts (including AEAs) for each initiative include:

o   Teacher Compensation Supplement at $289.9 million, an increase of $12.1 million.

o   Professional Development Supplement at $32.9 million, an increase of $1.4 million.

o   Early Intervention Supplement (Class Size) at $33.9 million, an increase of $1.4 million.

o   Teacher Leadership Supplement at $51.5 million, this is the first year the supplement has been funded through the school aid formula.  Because this program is being phased in, this funding will impact only one-third of Iowa students.

FY 16 Property Tax Replacement Payment- SF 173

SF 173 has the state pick up the incremental increase in property taxes associated with 4 percent state supplemental aid for the school year beginning on July 1, 2015.  This totals $17.8 million for FY16.  The bill would limit the “second effort” property tax portion to $750 per pupil through FY16, the amount based on the cost per pupil level of $6,001 for FY13.  Without this bill, under a 4 percent growth rate, property taxes would increase $82 per pupil to $782.

FY17 Allowable Growth/State Supplemental Aid Bill – SF 174

SF 174 sets 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for the school year beginning on July 1, 2016.  It costs the state General Fund $127.6 million for this bill (but $217.7 total, including $127.6 in SSA, $71.7 in categorical SSA and $18.8 million increase for the Property Tax pick up compared to FY 2016).

FY17 Categorical State Percent of Growth Bill – SF 175

In 2008, the Legislature provided categorical state supplemental aid formula for three long-standing education line-item appropriations, these appropriations are 100 percent state aid:  Teacher Quality and Phase II, Professional Development and Early Intervention (also known as Class Size Reduction money)

SF 175 sets the state supplemental aid rate for school year beginning on July 1, 2016 for each of the State Categorical Supplements at 4 percent and totals $479.8 million, an increase of $71.7 million compared to the previous year.  Funding amounts (including AEAs) for each initiative include:

o   Teacher Compensation Supplement at $302.6 million, an increase of $12.7 million.

o   Professional Development Supplement at $34.4 million, an increase of $1.4 million.

o   Early Intervention Supplement (Class Size) at 35.3 million, an increase of $1.5 million.

o   Teacher Leadership Supplement at  $107.5 million, this is the second year the supplement has been funded through the school aid formula.  This funding only impacts 2/3 of Iowa students

FY 17 Property Tax Replacement Payment- SF 176

·        SF 176 has the state pay for the incremental increase in property taxes associated with 4 percent state supplemental aid for the school year beginning on July 1, 2016.  This $62.0 million for FY 2017.  The bill would limit the “second effort” property tax portion to $750 per pupil through FY17, the amount based on the cost per pupil level of $6,001 for FY13.  Without this bill, under a 4 percent growth rate, property taxes would increase $33 per pupil to $815 compared to 4% levels in FY 2016.

Iowa Senate press release, February 3:

Senate Democrats announce plan

that is a ‘serious, meaningful step forward

for Iowa’s local schools’

(Des Moines) Democratic members of the Iowa Senate today announced a plan to increase state aid to schools to ensure that every Iowa child gets the best education possible and that they are prepared to compete for the jobs of the future.

The Senate Democratic plan calls for a 4 percent increase in basic state aid for Iowa schools for the school year beginning on July 1, 2015, and for the school year beginning July 1, 2016.

“Iowa’s future depends on high-quality local schools,” said Senate President Pam Jochum of Dubuque. “That’s why we support a plan that is a serious, meaningful step forward for Iowa schools.”

“Our plan would reverse Iowa’s slide downwards when you compare us to other states in terms of per student investment,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs.  “We are now 35th and falling.  Other states are investing more and achieving better results that Iowa. We must do better.”

Gronstal added: “As Senate Democrats travel the state listening to parents, students, educators and other concerned Iowans, they all tell us that the funding approved by the Republican-controlled House is not enough to keep up with the costs of providing a high-quality experience in our local classrooms. In fact, school superintendents across the state say their schools are facing larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, outdated materials, and staff layoffs.”

Jochum said the House-passed version would also raise property taxes on many Iowans, while shortchanging our best and brightest students.

“The House’s party-line vote for 1.25 percent was really a  vote to continue Iowa’s  slide even further downwards in terms of per student investment and student achievement,” Jochum said.

end

A sampling from school visits, phone calls, emails and other reports received by Iowa Senate Democrats in the past few weeks:

From a high school science teacher in eastern Iowa:  

I hold cupboard doors closed with rulers because they won’t stay closed any more.  We have had the gas turned off in my +45 year old lab because of leak concerns, and they threaten to turn off my water in my lab because of leaks into the downstairs lab.  My books for biology were copyrighted in 2000 and our classroom computers are going on 4 years old. My class sizes of 25 or more are not conducive to inquiry.

From teachers and administrators in Newton

The Middle School no longer has Industrial Arts: no student is taught metals, woods or plastics unless they meet the criteria to go to the Career Academy at DMACC.  A 1.25% increase = $191,000 in “new money.” That leaves a shortfall of $382,000.  This shortfall is proposed to be covered by a $0.375 increase in school property tax levy through the budget guarantee.

From an elementary school teacher in Waukee

The teacher-pupil ratio in my building’s kindergarten classes is 26 to 1 because we can’t afford to hire additional teachers. I know many of you in this room believe the teacher-pupil ratio is much less, but it is not. Our teacher pupil ratio is not ideal.

Twenty different languages are spoken in our building. Several students who attend our school are refugees. They are new comers who know little to no English. Teachers overcome these hurdles in addition to teaching their curriculum and make sure all their students receive the love, attention, and differentiated instruction they deserve. Quite simply, we need more teachers, but there is no money to hire additional staff.

From an elementary teacher in Cedar Rapids

I have been in the classroom for more than 14 years and due to budget cuts over the last few years, my class sizes have been between 25 to 28 students. During the 2011-12 school year, I had 35 fourth graders in my classroom. I’d like you all to imagine 35 fourth graders in a classroom. We are all packed like sardines in this hearing room tonight. Imagine that this is what it feels like in a classroom with 35 students only we are together, every single day, trying to learn

From a Northwest Iowa Superintendent

We need 6% for no cuts, 4% minimum…If the current House’s proposal passes we will be looking to cut an amount equal to 4.7 teachers in FY 17. This is not acceptable.

From Superintendent Mary Jo Hainstock, Vinton-Shellsburg

Our students deserve better and more than Governor Branstad has recommended. The spending per student is well below the national average and, if the recommendation is followed, we would be on a trajectory to be part of the lowest 20% in the nation.  If we want our state to remain economically viable, we need to prepare our students for their futures.  We need adequate resources to do this

From Superintendent Dan Maeder, Davis County Community School District

Fund education like you want Iowa to lead the nation once again.

From a Central Iowa School Board member

As a school that is just getting our financial feet under us cash-wise, a 1.25% SSA increase would deal a hefty blow as it does not give us the spending authority we need to run our school.  Without it, we are looking at possible staff reductions, maybe even program reductions, when we thought we cut as far as we could a couple of years ago.  Our students deserve better.

One of Governor Branstad’s main goals (as listed on his website) is having the best schools in the nation.  The duties and expectations put upon our staff continue to increase every year to reach this goal, however, Iowa continues to fall in educational funding per student (currently 35th)!  I realize that just throwing money into something won’t make it better, but actions speak louder than words.  If the state is not willing to invest in our schools (and continue to invest less than most other states), they will never end up anywhere near the top of the list.

From a North Iowa School Board member

The amount of SSA that is suggested in these initial proposals (from the House and Governor) will not cover the increased costs of doing business, and will most likely lead to teaching positions being reduced, and programs for our students being reduced, as well as a possible increase in property taxes.

The governor and the legislature have been preaching “World Class Schools” for the last several years. How are we to develop “World Class Schools” in Iowa when we continue to underfund K-12 education. The state is asking us to provide “Cadillac” education while funding us at “Yugo” prices.

From a Central Iowa School Superintendent

The State of Iowa must end the current trend of underfunding our schools.  Over the last 14 years school funding has been reduced by 17% due to across the board cuts, eliminated funding for technology, and reduced dropout prevention funds.  Currently the State of Iowa’s per pupil spending ranks 35th in the nation spending $1612 less per pupil than the rest of the nation.  This is not acceptable, how will Iowa’s Schools be able to provide a world class education with third world funding?

From an Eastern Iowa teacher

Right now I am asking you to help with an urgent matter that impacts us all: funding for public education. House File 80 sets Supplemental School Aid at 1.25%. That is an inadequate amount and would result in overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, fired teachers, etc. Most school districts need at least 4% to avoid budget reductions, maintain an adequate unspent balance, and offer innovative education opportunities. In fact, districts need 6% to allow schools to do innovative work at a more rapid pace. So please invest in our schools and children.

As an Iowan, I want us to have some of the best schools in the nation.

As a parent, I want my children to gain an excellent education that prepares them to be productive citizens.

As a teacher, I want my students to have innovative, research-based resources that will empower them to be competitive in college and the job market.

Opening statement from Iowa House Democrat Patti Ruff during the January 27 debate on education funding:

Opening Comments by State Rep. Patti Ruff on 6% Supplemental State Aid

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Our amendment will set supplemental state aid at 6%. This amount wasn’t plucked out of thin air. This is the number that all public school organizations are asking for — school boards, teachers, administrators, urban and rural schools – everyone.  They all know that for Iowa to grow and succeed it begins with educating our children.

And they are exactly right. Shortchanging our children will shortchange Iowa’s future.

I appreciate the effort to move this in a quick fashion so our schools will be able to work on their budgets this year, but you’re already a year late.

Over the past couple of weeks I’m sure you have seen and read the statistics relating to low supplemental state aid; how we rank 35th in the nation and sit $1612 below the national average; how this is the 3rd lowest set amount on record for Iowa in funding education.;  and how it will raise property taxes. But what do all these mean to the average Iowan, the families that are raising their children on this state?

Simply, to quote the superintendent from North Tama, “You can’t have world class schools on a 3rd world budget.” This translates into larger class sizes, fewer opportunities for our children like those associated with STEM for example, and an achievement gap will grow.

As a former school board president, I know it translates into not having the funding available to keep the lights on, gas in the buses, ordering new text books, upgrade technology or keep good teachers in the classroom. In return, to offset the difference, you will see schools raising property taxes. And it’s not just a few, it’s really half the districts in the state.

We heard last night at the public hearing (at least those of us that were there or watching it online) how our teachers spend out of their own pockets to supply their rooms. Not only do they do that, but out of the goodness of their hearts, they help feed our students who aren’t able to get a meal at home.

I find it so intriguing the talk about cutting taxes and giving Iowans tax breaks, yet when it comes to school funding we don’t hesitate to underfund it which in turns is one of the main mechanisms for raising taxes. 7 out of my 10 districts will have to raise property taxes. My districts will still be faced with either raising taxes or cutting staff, staff that is stretched so thin, we cannot cut anymore. As one gentleman put it last night, “Iowans don’t have endlessly deep pockets.”

The Des Moines Register had an article over the weekend highlighting schools that are currently running in the red.  About a dozen of these, all rural districts, had to plead their case before the School Budget Review Committee. With this minimal amount of state aid, how many more of our schools will be appearing before the committee in future years? Our job is to make sure every kid in Iowa gets a world class education, regardless of where they live.

I asked my own superintendent how much his operating costs have increased. He said that it has increased on average over 4% per year since 2006. I highlight this district because I know personally the challenges it has faced over the years maintaining an excellent solvency ratio – sort of like our state’s triple A bond rating – while having declining enrollment, new categoricals tying up where their finances are spent, and upwards of $1000 per pupil in transportation costs. When is the squeeze too much?? Why do we continue forcing more schools to unfortunately be put in the red? When is enough –  enough?

We may not be cutting education funding, but continually not funding it at sustainable levels is not acceptable. What we listened to last night and had many more folks submit testimony – proves what our schools need – 6%. This is the Iowa House. We are here because Iowans voted us here to be their voice. Yet I fear too many in this chamber aren’t listening, disregarding what they want and are asking for.

6% will help ease the burden we are placing on our schools. It is our job to set supplemental state aid before we have budget targets. It is spelled out in the Iowa Code.  The rest of the budget has always been worked around once the SSA has been set. Educational funding is set this way, to prove that it is our #1 priority, yet we are proving it is second fiddle once again if you do not vote for this amendment.

That concludes my opening remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.