It is March 18th and Iowa legislators haven’t set K-12 school funding for next year, in violation of their own law. Funding should have been set over a year ago for the 2016-2017 school year. School districts are being forced to set budgets without knowing whether they will receive any increases in funding from the legislature. School districts are setting budgets that increase class sizes, cut teachers, and cut programs.
During election years and before legislative sessions begin, our legislators talk about how education should be our state’s highest priority. Then, once the legislative session begins, they stop talking about it. Democrats and Republicans set their numbers and then it becomes a game of chicken, with Iowa’s young people caught squarely in the middle. The decisions about education funding seem to happen in rooms very deep within the Capitol building. I follow the Iowa legislature pretty carefully, and while I find lots of references to medicaid and allowing children to shoot guns, I find very little about what is actually happening in regards to education funding. Is it possible that the reason for this is that lobbyists for healthcare and guns are pushing those conversations into the spotlight?
Why is it that the Iowa House representative for my school district is willing to be quoted about arming children, but it is impossible to find him staking out a position on school funding? Like many of his Republican counterparts, he simply waits to be told what low number will be set in that back room of the capitol late in the session and then votes the party line.
The Iowa Revenue Estimating Conference this week advised legislators that revenues would increase by 4.4% for Fiscal Year 2017 (http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/government/revenue-update-sets-stage-for-budget-deal-201603160). How can a legislator say that education is a priority in our state when they aren’t willing to support Iowa schools at half the rate that revenues are growing? Even with massive corporate tax breaks Iowa’s economy is growing, yet we spend $1000 less per pupil in our schools than the national average? The only reasonable answer is that our Republican legislators want to set up public schools to fail so that, much like how they want to privatize Medicaid in order for the health care industry to increase profits, they can privatize education. Is there another explanation? Have Republicans explained how public schools get better with larger class sizes, fewer teachers, or fewer programs? Of course not.
Here is the thing though; they are who we think they are. They care about guns for children. They care about legalized sports gambling. They care about privatizing Medicaid. They care about tax cuts for big business. Folks, that’s on us. We elected them. So, it’s all about November. Somewhere in some back room of the Capitol a small group of legislators are figuring out what number, less than a 3% increase, that they can get away with for school funding. That’s just the way it is. What we must do is hold those legislators who are sitting silently and allowing this to happen accountable in November. If we re-elect a legislator who won’t speak out in favor of adequately funding our schools in favor of speaking out on guns, that’s on us. Legislators count on the fact that voters have short memories. History suggests they are right. We have to prove them wrong.