Reason #1 why education funding was reduced

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

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

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

Today, we will explore reason #1.

Why did the legislature and the Governor under-fund education during a year when revenue came in at 6% above the previous year, and the state’s reserve funds stand at almost 20%?

Because state revenues have been purposely depleted, politicized, reassigned, restructured, or are responsible for more funding.

There are many reasons for what happened during the 2015 Legislative session in Iowa. Some of the issues included over promising, overextending, tax reductions and cuts, a continued change from the Allowable Growth (AG) formula to the SSA formula (which means all new money comes from only state funding and no property taxes), and a lack of commitment to education. All of these resulted in depleting state revenues, which resulted in fewer funds for students, schools, mental health, and all state governmental departments.

Governor Branstad’s veto of the one-time money was just the last step in many steps in a lack of commitment to education in Iowa. The lack of monetary support with the setting of the SSA is much bigger than money. This lack of monetary support impacts students, families, and educators who may not feel valued, trusted or respected.

During the 2014-15 school year, state revenues came in at a positive 6% increase. School communities, including K-12s, AEAs, community colleges, private colleges and regents’ institutions were all extremely disappointed with the lack of support for Iowa’s education entities.  There was a double punch in the gut of being under-funded and not receiving our budgets in a timely manner. This seemed to send a very clear message that education is not a priority in Iowa. Not only did we not receive adequate funding, we were forced to plan for the worst, because the legislature did not follow timeline laws.

In the 10 counties of Northwest AEA, 100 fewer K-12 teachers will serve an increasing population of students (up 439 students, or an increase of 1.01%, for 2014-15). Northwest AEA had to reduce employees by 10.5 FTE, or 4.21%, during the 2014-15 school year. Northwest AEA reduced an additional 5 FTE, or 2.09%, for the 2015-16 school year.

The issues causing this lack of commitment from legislators include:

  • Overpromising
  • Overextending
  • Tax reductions for commercial properties
  • Commercial tax reimbursements and tax credits
  • The continued change from the allowable growth formula to the SSA formula ($31 million of the new SSA money does not come from property taxes for FY 2016]
  • Increased gas taxes for transportation/roads
  • A total of $441 million that was previously not paid by state revenue is now preventing support for education

In the “Education Fact of the Week: Iowa's Per Pupil Funding is Plummeting,” issue published on January 13, 2015, this trend becomes very evident.

Iowa’s commitment to increase education funding per pupil has plummeted, as evidenced by the historical graph above, especially since 1993, when the legislature started setting the rate each year rather than an automatic increase based on economic and inflationary factors. In several recent years, schools experienced record low increases per pupil that have not kept pace with cost increases of running the school. 

Two facts evidence the support this negative impact on Iowa education in recent years: 

  • Iowa’s percent change in spending per student, inflation-adjusted, from FY 2008 through FY 2014, is down $641 per student. Thirty-seven states have managed to do better for their schools and students despite a recovery from the recession less robust than Iowa has experienced.  (Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 20, 2014, “Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession,” http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=4011)
  • Currently Iowa ranks 35th in the nation in educational funding per student, which is $1,612 below the national average (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/NEA-Rankings-and-Estimates-2013-2014.pdf). Iowa’s relative investment in students has fallen since 2001-02.

The depletion of state resources to other non-educational priorities is a disturbing trend if it was planned, or equally disturbing if it was unplanned. If it was planned, it confirms the lack of commitment to education. If it was unplanned, we need to reset our priorities. Either way, 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 action 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!

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Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator