While the world focuses on the circus that is the 2016 presidential election, Iowans should pay some attention to our local statehouse elections. Republican statehouse candidates are doing all that they can to make Iowans forget that over the last 7 years state funding for education has increased less than 2% annually. They are trying to trot out a dog and pony show that would lead you to believe that they have spent the last several years as champions for public schools when the truth is that the most significant role they have played in public education is to be in violation of their own laws regarding school funding.
According to the Iowa Fiscal Partnership business tax breaks will drain $611 million dollars in revenue for this fiscal year. Tax breaks for businesses have increased 13% at a time when the state is funding education at a rate of less than 2% annually over the last 7 years. How in the world does that demonstrate support to public education? They will tell you that a substantial portion of new state dollars are dedicated to education. What they don’t tell you is that new revenue is severely impacted by the tax breaks that they are handing out to big businesses.
There are two false narratives happening as Republican legislators try to sell you the snake oil that is their claims of support for education. The first false narrative is that schools are spending money recklessly. If you believe that, talk to your local school board members. Ask them where public school dollars are being spent recklessly. Talk to your local superintendent and ask which programs should be cut. Ask students which activities they would like to see eliminated from their schools. The idea that schools are carelessly spending money is just false. The second false narrative is simply that these Republican legislators are advocates for public education. During the legislative session they are dead silent on the subject. They simply vote their party line for the smallest amount of growth that they believe the public will accept. There is no robust conversation about the increased expectations that school districts face from their communities. There is no dialogue about how our changing demographics require more support in order for students to be successful. Ask your Republican legislative candidate if they can look you in the eye and tell you that an average growth of 1.93% over the last seven years for public education demonstrates real support for public schools. There can be no doubt that our Republican governor and legislators have prioritized business interests over public schools over the last several years.
Iowa’s schools are captive to our state legislators. In violation of Iowa law they refuse to set school funding 14 months in advance so that schools can plan how to responsively allocate resources. They have not listened to the voices of school boards, superintendents, and their constituents who tell them that current funding is inadequate to meet the needs of our increasing diverse student population. Iowans deserve better. It is not enough for candidates to simply say that they care about public education during an election cycle. Priorities are shown in how we distribute our resources. Don’t be fooled by meaningless pandering at election time. Hold them accountable. Iowa’s schools can’t afford another two years of massive tax breaks for businesses only to be told that there isn’t money to keep up with the rising costs of educating our students.