I spend more on tomatoes than at any other time in my life. If the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is to be believed, I am spending 42.04% more on tomatoes than I did in 2000 (http://www.in2013dollars.com/Tomatoes/price-inflation). The thing is, I don’t go around bragging about how much I spend on tomatoes, it just happens to cost more to buy tomatoes today than it used to. I’m not a tomato expert, so I’m not exactly sure why tomatoes cost more now than they used to. I assume that it costs more to produce, distribute, and market the tomatoes than it used to. If the truth is to be told, I don’t really like tomatoes that much, but I’m still spending more than ever on tomatoes.
Governor Reynolds and Republican legislators in Iowa are fond of saying that we are spending more on education than at any other time in history. I can tell you that they are telling the truth. That doesn’t mean that are doing all they can to support public education in our state. Less than two years ago Republican lawmakers stripped public school teachers of our bargaining rights. For the last two years lawmakers have chosen to increase spending on K-12 public education at a rate of just over 1%, while slashing funding to our state’s post secondary institutions. It is also clear that Republican lawmakers are eager to dismantle IPERS and steer more public dollars towards private and charter schools.
The fact is that it costs more to keep our schools open each and every year. Much like the tomato farmer, most of the costs associated with what we do are out of our control. The increasing costs of transportation, heating and cooling, health care, technology, textbooks, and many other operational expenses far exceed the 1% increase that the legislature has appropriated for K-12 education. The result is that Iowa’s schools are seeing increased class sizes and cuts in programming such as fine arts and industrial technology.
When Iowa’s lawmakers tell you that education funding is stretching the state’s purse strings, it is critical to note that they are in control of what goes into the purse. A state’s budget is really a reflection of what we prioritize. If the last two years of Republican control of the statehouse and governor’s mansion has taught us anything it is that their priority is to put money in the pockets of Iowa’s wealthiest people and businesses. As an example business tax credits in Iowa are projected to increase from $202 million in 2011 to over $302 million in 2021 (http://www.iowapolicyproject.org/Budget_Taxes.html). That is creating a shift in priorities from public services to private pockets.
Other states have followed this playbook in recent years. Kansas is an outstanding example of a state that attempted to implement massive tax cuts and make giant cuts to public spending (https://www.npr.org/2017/10/25/560040131/as-trump-proposes-tax-cuts-kansas-deals-with-aftermath-of-experiment). It failed. Our governor and Republican legislators know that it failed and yet they continue to follow the playbook. It will take Kansas years to recover from those failed policies. Iowa cannot afford two more years of the Kansas playbook being implemented.
Education may not be the issue that drives you to the polls and I get that, but don’t go to the polls this November under the belief that Iowa’s Republican legislators are doing all they can for our public schools. You say tomato and I say, well I say tomato too. No one says ToMAHto. I say Republicans are underfunding Iowa’s schools because that’s what is happening. Don’t be fooled into believing there is another way to look at it.