The 2015 school funding debate was voracious, the long fight led to a less than desirable agreement, and in the end the Governor’s veto and subsequent comments leave the education community in a spiraling pit of despair. House Republicans were steadfast on their spending principles, and Senate Democrats were firm in their support of providing the same funding process that has existed since the school supplemental aid (allowable growth) formula came into existence. 1.25% with an additional one-time $55 million was more than sufficient for the Republicans in the end, except Governor Branstad, who vetoed the one-time spending.
The battle has been all-encompassing throughout the spring and early summer. Superintendents and school boards set budgets without certified numbers from the statehouse. The arguments that either schools need to be more efficient or that schools have enough money are both invalid when schools have to guess how much money they will be working with. With no special session in sight, the fight is over for this fiscal year. A person longer in the conversation than I shared that additional funding like Phase monies, teacher quality money, and other earmarked special allotments have been created so that school districts could use money other than the general fund allocation to support expenditures. The formula has worked for awhile, but it may be time to change that formula as schools once again move to dependence on only the general fund to meet budgetary requirements.
The upcoming Republican agenda will be to move toward privatization, vouchers and dismantling of teacher unions; that is well-documented. I think those in support of public education would be well-served to push for legislation during the next session to rework public school funding. Real reform that will provide for districts at an acceptable cost to taxpayers. Continuing to “choke out” public schools by tying superintendents’ hands and putting everyone in limbo doesn’t do anything for our students and takes away from their educational future with no real plan for change.
I believe that those with means to do so need to file lawsuits to assure that the next legislature sets school funding according to the law in 2016. Reform will take time, and two things have to be addressed to allow schools to move forward during the transition: schools need enough money to keep up with inflation and cost of living increases, and the teacher leadership compensation money needs to be excluded from the total given to schools (this money was well documented not to be part of increases in money to schools). If schools can be given solid numbers on time, they can transition to new funding systems with as little disruption to the educational program as possible and plan for the future as supported in and intended by state law.
Superintendents are doing their job. See Chris Hoover, superintendent at Maquoketa, and his blog. It’s time for the Iowa Legislature to do theirs.