Just before the July 4th holiday, Governor Branstad sent Iowa schools scrambling when he vetoed $56 million in urgently needed funding.
It’s just the latest gut punch to K-12 schools and educators from Republicans at the State Capitol.
First, they were forced to wait for over a year and a half to find out how much money they would receive for the upcoming school year. Once Republicans finally agreed to negotiate with Democrats to resolve the school funding crisis, we approved an additional $56 million for schools next year.
A month after we adjourned for the year, the Governor issued his veto and pulled the rug out from under schools just weeks before the start of the new school year.
The veto came as a surprise to everyone because his office was part of the final negotiations to close down the 2015 legislative session. At that time, he gave no indication that he was opposed to the school funding plan or that he would veto the agreement.
So what does his veto mean for local schools?
According to school leaders, it means larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and higher property taxes. One school district said yesterday they will operate in a deficit next year because of the veto. Another superintendent said the veto was a “significant blow to education” and called the Governor’s action a “bait-and-switch.”
They’re exactly right.
Unfortunately, the school funding crisis, coupled with the Governor’s veto and excuses, prove that educating our kids isn’t a priority for Republicans at the State Capitol any longer.
Despite our growing economy, basic school funding has also slipped dramatically since Republicans took over the House and Governor’s Office. Over the last five years, school funding has slipped to about a 1.85% annually, including one year when they left schools with zero. That’s compared to average increases of about 6% in 1980’s to 4% in the ‘90’s.
Republicans have been saying for years they can’t adequately fund public education because the state can’t afford it. But it just isn’t true.
The state ended the fiscal year on June 30th in a strong position with 6% revenue growth over last year and hit $8 billion for the first time in history. The state actually took in an extra $33 million that we didn’t expect due to our strong economy. According the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, the state will end the fiscal year with $1.07 billion in surplus and reserves.
The bottom line is this: we have the funds available to support our K-12 schools, while keeping reserve accounts full and a strong ending balance in place.
So what’s next?
I’m joining my colleagues in the Iowa House and Senate and requesting a special session of the Iowa Legislature to make educating Iowa students a top priority again.
It’s really the only option left for our schools. If two-thirds of lawmakers agree to come back in special session, we can overturn the Governor’s veto and put our kids first again.
It shouldn’t be a heavy lift because the bill vetoed by the Governor passed the Iowa House with 87 votes, well beyond the 67 votes needed to overturn the veto.
I hope you’ll encourage your own State Representative and State Senator to join the call for a special session by contacting them directly and signing on to this petition to all Iowa lawmakers requesting a special session.
Our kids deserve it.