There are many ways to measure Iowa’s lagging commitment to public schools. One is a comparison of growth in school aid to growth in state revenues.
As K-12 schools are a significant share of the state budget, it seems sensible that we would expect at least similar numbers of growth in one vs. the other.
While not a perfect comparison — there are moving parts with both figures — you can get an idea of the general trend in the accompanying graph. Net General Fund revenues have been coming in with average yearly increases around 4 percent,* while the key school-aid number, for Supplemental State Aid, has averaged about half that.**
The numbers below are taken from the latest Revenue Estimating Conference report, available here: https://dom.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2016/03/rec-projections-2016-03-16.pdf
- The actual ending balance for FY2015 (the budget year ending last June 1) showed a net over-the-year revenue change from FY2014 of 5.1 percent. For that same period, schools had 4 percent Supplemental State Aid — the only year that high since FY2010.
- For the current year, the most recent official revenue estimate is for a 3.3 percent state revenue increase, while schools are operating on budgets reflecting 1.25 percent per-pupil growth.
- For FY2017, the estimate is for a 4.4 percent state revenue increase, and the deal just hatched at the Statehouse — 13 months late — is for schools to see 2.25 percent per-pupil growth.
- For FY2018, for budgets to be approved a year from now, the state is expecting 4.1 percent revenue growth. The school aid number for FY2018 by law was to have been set a month ago so school districts could properly plan their budgets when enrollment counts are set this fall, and to negotiate staff contracts without big uncertainties. That number has not been set and apparently will not be during this legislative session, as neither the House nor the Governor is interested.
Understand, the revenue growth number is held artificially low by the growing and incessant demand for business tax breaks that undermine revenues. So the net revenue number would be much higher if legislators wanted it. Instead, they continue to give away hundreds of millions of dollars before they even reach the state treasury.
If the Legislature were to curtail business tax credits even slightly, plenty of money would be available to properly fund education and other actual public priorities that are the traditional and best-focused business of state government.
Alas, that is not the political world in which we live.