Dear Governor Branstad,
In your Condition of the State address you said that your budget proposal (an increase of 2.45% in Supplemental State Aid for pK-12 schools) would provide the stability, predictability and funding that schools need and deserve. Whether or not a 2.45% increase would provide the funding our schools need to meet increasing expectations is debatable, but what is not debatable is that you and our legislators have not done anything to make school funding stable or predictable. It should be an embarrassment to you that the legislature continues to be in violation of Iowa Code by not setting school funding more than a year in advance. Because of your lack of leadership on this issue, schools are announcing significant budget cuts throughout the state.
Just this week, several state Chamber of Commerce leaders asked you and legislators to do your jobs and get school funding taken care of (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2016/03/01/chamber-leaders-boost-aid-schools-least-3/81179218/). They also recommended that School Supplemental State Aid be increased by at least 3%. They recognize that in order for Iowa’s schools to be competitive Iowa must invest in manageable class sizes, quality learning environments, and curriculum that is aligned with Iowa’s workforce needs.
Many times we wish we could see the implications of our decisions before we make them. As you and Republican legislators continue to slash corporate taxes, which leads to forcing austerity on Iowa’s schools, wouldn’t it be great to be able to see into the future and determine how these cuts will impact our state. The good news is that we can see the implications that massive tax cuts and spending cuts have on a state. Have you seen what is happening in Kansas (http://highschool.latimes.com/orange-county-school-of-the-arts/the-kansas-education-crisis/)? To follow in their path seems ludicrous.
Mr. Governor, while I recognize that with an approval rating of 38% (http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/terry-branstad/) your influence may be limited, it is time for you to lead. You need to demand that Iowa’s legislators act on school funding. While your July 2 veto of school funding last year surely makes your influence tenuous, it is your responsibility to do right by Iowa’s young people.
2016 is an election year. If I were a Republican legislator I would be worried. I would be worried that the 2016 election will be a referendum on school funding. If I were a Republican governor in Iowa, I would be worried that the Iowa House will no longer have a Republican majority in 2017 because of this issue. Voters in Iowa are paying attention to our legislators unwillingness to act. Simply holding a party line isn’t going to serve legislators well when they face voters in November.
Schools need know their budget situation as soon as possible. You can choose to lead or you can choose to be a bystander. Do the right thing because it’s the right thing, do the right thing for political reasons, or do something else, but do SOMETHING. Iowa’s students deserve better than you and Iowa’s legislators have given them in recent years.
Patrick J. Kearney