Reason #2 – Legislators do not follow the law

In trying to understand the lack of commitment to public education in Iowa, my August blog used the “5 Why’s” process to analyze the lack of commitment.

The five main reasons that were identified with this process include:

1.     Depleted state revenues for Supplemental State Aid (SSA);

2.     Legislators not following the SSA timeline;

3.     The need for binding arbitration for legislators;

4.     School reform, “Initiative Fatigue”; and

5.     Educators keep making it happen with reduced funding – doing more with less.

In 1992, Allowable Growth was adopted in the state of Iowa to take Iowa’s educational funding off of a formula that coincided with the revenues of the state. This is when Iowa state funding became politicized because the Governor and lawmakers could now set the Allowable Growth rather than have the formula set it based on revenue. During this time, Governor Branstad was serving as Governor. The politicized decision brought a concern of instability for school districts. 

In response, in 1995, the formula was modified to set Allowable Growth for two years in advance so school districts could plan appropriately. This also allowed the legislature to know their largest budget item—and their most prioritized budget item—a year in advance. This modification gave stability to both schools and the legislature, even though the decision to set Allowable Growth was still a politicized decision. Also, in 1996, the Regular Program Foundation Level increased from 83 percent to 87.5 percent, which increased the portion of state aid paid from the state general fund and provided tax relief. The Foundation Level change provided more consistency to property taxpayers but increased the burden of state aid in the formula.

All of these laws were decisions made by governmental officials to stabilize educational funding in Iowa. They provided this stabilization for almost a decade. So five to six years ago when the legislature and the Governor started a new trend to not follow the law setting school funding two fiscal years in advance, educators were frustrated and perplexed. The unintended consequences from the decision has resulted in school boards and educators making detrimental decisions. These decisions include constantly planning for the worst-case scenario, not being able to staff buildings on time, having to RIF (Reduction In Force/reduce teachers and staff) every year, which results in the educational community eating its seed corn (reducing the youngest and most enthusiastic new teachers and employees) and focusing on survival-mode instead of innovation and reform.

The Iowa AEAs have experienced cuts and reductions in funding in special education of up to $15-20 million across the state per year for at least the last five years. The services that AEAs provide to our most disabled and needy students continue to diminish. Overall, educators and parents are upset with the political system that seems to not value them, not trust them and not respect them. In Northwest AEA alone, at least $22 million has been reduced from the funding formula since 2001.

There are two main issues to be addressed here: timeliness and adequacy. The timeliness is codified and should be followed. It sets a terrible precedent not to follow the laws of the state when you expect everyone else in the state to follow these laws. The adequacy issue is just as damaging. The results include problems for schools in budgeting, staffing and long-range planning. 

It is next to impossible for communities and their schools to focus on reform and innovation when they continue to have to struggle to survive because their general funds have been diminished. The promise set three years ago was that the Reform Efforts would not supplant the Allowable Growth/Supplemental State Aid. This promise has not been fulfilled and sabotages the success of the good reform efforts being implemented. If this reform in education is expected to happen, Iowa should invest in the general fund, foundational money and the innovations.

Legislators and the Governor’s office must hear from parents, educators and the business community that education is still a priority in Iowa. Invite your legislators to see education in your community or contact them and let them know about your educational needs. We must be our own advocates to stop this alarming de-funding trend!

As always, be sure to check out our blogs, which we hope will inform, inspire and guide your daily work:

For a complete listing of all blogs, please go to the Northwest AEA website. You can also sign up for an RSS feed to automatically receive blog updates (instructions provided on the Northwest AEA website).

Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator