We’re just over half way through the 2015 session.
As you may have heard, the biggest challenge we face is the school funding crisis.
Since session began in January, school officials and parents have been telling us the Republican plan to underfund our schools (1.25% increase in basic school aid) means larger class sizes, fewer course offerings, and cuts to enriching programs like music, sports, mock trial, debate, art, and PE.
Superintendents, school board members, and parents have all been pushing lawmakers to quickly approve a 4% increase in basic school funding for this year. Democrats in the Iowa Legislature agree and the Iowa Senate has already approved the 4% increase.
The issue right now is in the hands of a bi-partisan conference committee that is supposed to resolve the differences between the two plans. Republicans are saying the state budget can’t afford any more than 1.25% this year, which is about $99 million next year, while the cost for a 4% increase for schools is about $212 million.
Unfortunately, the committee is deadlocked right now and so far Republicans refuse to negotiate anything beyond their plan for 1.25%.
It turns out this rationale for underfunding our schools is just a smokescreen. That’s because Republicans passed a bill last week full of tax breaks – overwhelmingly targeted to those at the top – that will cost the state $520 million next year.
That’s more than double the cost of the 4% increase in state aid requested by schools and parents. How can Republicans say the state can’t afford more than $99 million for half a million kids in public schools next year then turn around and pass a $520 million tax cut instead?
We also learned this week from a panel of budget experts that Iowa has a strong fiscal outlook next year with solid 6% revenue growth over this year. That means we can do 4% for our schools and keep the state budget balanced next year.
The school funding crisis this year is really just the latest chapter in the on-going debate about the future of k-12 education in Iowa.
Over the last five years, Republicans in the Legislature have consistently worked to undercut our public schools with anemic state funding. Their agenda also includes taking away local control on the school start date, encouraging more homeschooling and ignoring Iowa law that sets education funding first. Taken together, it is clear public schools are just not a priority for Republicans in the Iowa Legislature anymore.
After leading the nation in education for decades, Iowa is falling behind other states and we’re now $1,612 below the national average in per pupil spending.
K-12 education is a top priority for Iowans and the state should take quick action to boost school funding by 4% next year.
The state can afford it and the half a million kids in our k-12 schools deserve it.