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.