Iowa’s school funding process is broken.
- The Legislature repeatedly violates the law by failing to set state aid in time for districts to adequately plan their budgets.
- The levels of funding lawmakers set — averaging less than 2 percent growth over the last six years — are routinely below the growth in costs that schools face.
As if those two things are not bad enough, inequities grandfathered into the school funding formula have not been corrected. While the four-decades-old formula was designed to reduce inequities between districts of higher and lower property values by augmenting property tax revenues with state aid, a gap persists.
Long and short: There is a $175 range in the “cost per pupil” that school districts must use as the building block of their annual budgets. While the minimum cost for this year is set at $6,446 per student, six districts are as high as $6,621.
The inequities have been known for some time. When combined with chronic underfunding, these inequities are magnified. In one case, Davenport school officials are defying state limits on use of their own resources to make sure their students have the same opportunity as students in other districts.
For example, as school budgets are based on enrollment, a district with 1,000 students and operating at the minimum — the state cost per pupil — is losing out on $175,000 per year in comparison with a district at the maximum. In a district the size of Davenport, that’s about $2.8 million a year.
What many Iowans might not realize is that their own school district may be in a similar situation to that of Davenport.
Few districts (only six) are at the maximum per pupil cost; most districts (84 percent) are $100 or more below the maximum per pupil cost. Nearly half of all districts (164 of 336) are at the minimum.*
The more you look at this, you can see it is not a Davenport issue, but an Iowa issue, and a failure of public policy.