The annual debate over public schools started up in the Iowa House again this week and Iowans will likely have a sense a déjà vu.
Republicans in the House took a bill sent over from the Senate last year (Republicans are a year late following the law) and chopped the proposed new investment for public schools in half. Then sent it over back to the Senate.
Next, they’ll refuse to compromise with the Senate and delay school funding as long as possible.
While stalling on public schools, Republicans will enact new tax cuts to guarantee almost all new revenue growth is eaten up by tax giveaways before it can be used to invest in public schools.
That’s what happened in 2013 when the state generated a record surplus and then enacted a huge corporate tax cut. It happened last fall when Branstad used his bureaucrats to enact another $37 million tax giveaway for corporations to make sure that money was gone before it could be used to keep sizes low in public schools.
Republicans are also working to divert state money from public schools to other priorities. One of the ideas they’ve offered up would take $200 million each year from public schools and redirect it to support private schools and homeschools instead.
Last week, Governor Branstad wants to increase funding for new textbooks at private schools but can’t find money to support early literacy efforts in public schools.
I’ll give Republicans credit here. They’ve developed a shrewd political scheme that’s worked well for them the last five years.
Unfortunately, their political success comes at the expense of 480,000 kids in public schools.
School leaders around the state have given us a stern warning. They’ve squeezed their budgets for the last five years as paltry state resources have not kept up with their rising costs.
A survey of school leaders released last week found 90% of them will be forced to raise class sizes next year if public school funding falls short again. They also said it would force them to delay purchases for books or classroom materials (77%); leave positions unfilled (71%); delay new technology (56%); and cut back on literacy programs (43%).
When Republicans heard the results, they dismissed it out of hand. It’s a sad day when Republicans stop listening to local school leaders and ignore the consequences of their actions.
The excuses you’ll hear from Republicans in the months ahead about investing in public schools will also feel like déjà vu. It’s the federal governments fault. Local school leaders aren’t doing their job. The state budget is really tight.
Here’s what those excuses really mean: public schools aren’t the top priority of Republicans any more.
I firmly believe public education should be the top priority of the Iowa Legislature again and I know most Iowans agree.
There’s a lot at stake this year. I hope Republicans start listening soon. Our kids deserve it.