Finally, after these many months — 13 months past the legal deadline — Iowa lawmakers have decided what schools are going to receive for the next budget year.
A Des Moines Register story on the deal included this:
Big deal. As if there’s any question that there should be an increase every year. As if any increase, no matter how small, is something schools should celebrate. Especially when you recognize that not all schools receive an increase.
This deal leaves Iowa at around 2 percent per-pupil spending growth, on average, for the last seven years. Understand that a 2.25 percent “Supplemental State Aid” number does not mean all schools get even that meager amount of growth.
For many districts that have declining enrollment, the increase will not keep their budgets where they stood for this year. That means property tax increases. This, from the folks who tell you throughout their legislative campaigns and at Saturday morning coffees that the sun rises and sets on the idea that we have to cut property taxes. These very same legislators are forcing property tax increases for dozens of school districts.
Education is underfunded in Iowa. Education is not the priority, even if it is the greatest share of spending, because it is not funded in a way that reflects any strategic thinking.
If it were, education funding would be the first item determined in the legislative session — for the following budget year, as the law requires.
As it stands, the new number is coming less than one month before school districts certify their own budgets (they don’t get a pass on their April 15 deadline). And the number for FY2018, which was supposed to have been set a month ago, remains an open question and may well not be determined during this legislative session.
Once again Iowa lawmakers have decided that the first priority that needs their attention is figuring out who gets tax breaks. Education then has to fight for what is left over.
It’s not enough to keep up with the bills, and it’s not enough to make sure that we are paying what is necessary to assure we can keep great teachers in the profession, and attract potentially great teachers to the profession.