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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Iowa legislature Convenes next week

Its that time of year again when our elected officials return to Des Moines for 100 days of legislating.  I had a great conversation with our local Senators and Representatives on Friday at a legislative forum in West Union.  Senators Brian Shoenjahn, Mary Jo Wilhelm, and Micheal Breitbach, along with Representatives Bruce Bearinger, Patti Ruff, and Darrel Branhagen were present.

Of course one of my biggest issues is our Allowable Growth rate, which they now refer to as Supplemental State Aid.  By law the new rate for the 2015-16 school year should have been set last January.  I need to start negotiating with our staffs, making a plan for staffing our schools next year, and certify a budget in the next 90 days.  I hope they act fast on both the FY16 and FY17 growth rate so we don't have to go through this again next year.

More importantly than acting fast though is to provide adequate funding to meet Governor Branstad's goal of returning Iowa to #1 in education. We have fallen behind in student achievement in correlation with our level of per pupil funding compared to other states.

As you can see, Iowa's contribution per pupil has fallen to $1600 less than the national average.  I do not understand how we can set a goal of making Iowa #1 in education when we are approximately #37 in funding.  Yes, the state is making a good contribution to our Teacher Leadership and Compensation plan, but that is categorical funding, inflationary costs in goods and services continue to rise and we need to close this gap in order to avoid cutting staff.

On this next chart you see the correlation.   The Iowa drop in NAEP achievement is actually faster than the drop in per pupil spending.  It also is impacted by our poverty rates.  In 2001 Iowa had 28% of families qualifying for free and reduced lunches.  In 2013, that moves up to 41%.  Its not that these families of Low Socio-economic Status (SES) homes are at fault, but it is a fact that they cannot afford the educational opportunities for their children that everyone else can. Research shows this vocabulary gap impacts rates of learning.  Consider;

  • First-grade children from higher SES groups know about twice as many words as lower SES children (Graves, Brunetti, & Slater, 1982; Graves & Slater, 1987).
These kids need more resources to help them achieve in school.  Our funding gap exacerbates that issue.  Please advocate for a Supplemental State Aid growth that can help us help all students be more successful.  If Iowa is going to compete to be the best they need to level the financial  playing field.

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