It appears that Iowa legislators have reached a compromise on funding for Iowa’s K-12 schools for next year. The plan only provides a 1.25% increase in the base funding for Iowa’s schools next year with $55 million in one time spending. In the end it appears that Iowa schools will see a 2.4% increase in funding next year, although the one time spending distinction is important. That is because the base number for future growth will be from the lower 1.25% increase.
How should we feel? To be honest, I’m not sure. This decision comes more than 18 months after the law requires legislators to set this funding. It does not provide for funding for the 2016-2017 school year. Republican lawmakers never budged from their 1.25% proposal. Without a doubt Iowa schools were left in a terrible position for months while legislators did not act.
Over the last few months I have advocated for responsible funding of K-12 education in Iowa. Of course, the question is how much money amounts to responsible funding for Iowa’s schools? I truthfully don’t have that answer. Does today’s announcement of a budget deal feel like we have adequately answered this question? Of course it doesn’t. But, legislators got together and have agreed to this deal, so at least we can move on. Legislators could have simply refused on any compromise and we would be much worse off, so some credit has to be given to them that they got a deal done.
What has been learned through this process? To be frank we have learned that the Governor has little or no influence in the statehouse (even within his own party). Republicans did not act on almost any of the governor’s priorities in this legislative session. We have learned that our legislators do not feel compelled to follow their own laws regarding their obligations to set school funding in a timely manner. We have learned that our Republican legislators seem eager to follow the path that Kansas has taken regarding taxes and spending. They are going to cut corporate taxes in order to shrink the resources available to schools and other government obligations.
What have we not learned? I think the big thing we haven’t learned is the real agenda of our Republican legislators. The simple truth is that the path that they are leading us down will make it much more difficult to make Iowa’s schools “World Class”. I am convinced that their agenda is much more about the breaking up of Iowa’s teacher unions and their desire to see Iowa move to more charter schools and privatization of education. I have begged for any Republican legislator to openly discuss these topics, but they won’t do it. They like to talk about education getting the “first bite of the apple,” as though students, school boards, superintendents, or teachers care about which bite of the apple they are going to get, when the portion is so darned small.
So, it’s over. But of course it isn’t over. We have to have a real conversation about public education in Iowa. A conversation that is about best practice, best use of resources, getting our best and brightest to enter the teaching profession, and improving opportunities for Iowa’s young people. No one who does the real work of education in Iowa believes that a 1.25% increase in school funding will lead to better opportunities for our students. Those who believe that forcing austerity on Iowa’s schools will make them better need to come to the table and offer thoughts on how our public schools get better. Iowa will only become stronger if our schools are stronger. I promise that teachers have been working on making the 2015-2016 school year better for our students long before the kids went on summer vacation. Those plans won’t stop based on this funding plan. Now that the funding debate is over, let’s actually talk about education. Let us all put our agendas on the table and talk about how Iowa’s schools become “World Class.”