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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Childish arguments or special interests?

In my monthly newsletter a couple weeks ago I used some disparaging language to vent my frustration towards the stalemate in our legislature, to quote:
 Our dysfunctional Iowa legislature is apparently incapable of forming compromises.  Iowa law requires them to set education funding levels 18 months before the affected school year starts.   . . . .  However any inadequate funding this year cost us programs or positions in the near future.  Please encourage any lawmaker you know to settle this childish argument.
I know that these terms  are not respectful and for that I apologize.  Many very dedicated and well intentioned Iowans are serving in our representative government.  I appreciate all of their hard work on behalf of our state.  However, the stalemate does remind me of a dysfunctional family, incapable of coming to a sound conclusion, or even an unsavory compromise.  Its like two toddlers fighting over a toy.

The difference is this is not a toy, its our children's future and to a more extended view, our states livelihood.  Kansas made some similar tax cut decisions lately, and Governor Brownback is recklessly charging forward with tax cuts even after the District Court found the Sunflower State to be in violation of its constitutional responsibility towards education.

Governor Brandstad is apparently a follower of the same principal.  Take a look at the State School Aid % of General Fund spending Iowa has dedicated to education over the last 4 years as provided by Legislative Services Agency to IASB:

Admittedly this does not include TLC funding, but $50 million in 2015 would only increase the share by .7%, and 1.3% in 2016.  And why are we being held responsible for the property tax cuts?  That is spending towards Iowa Businesses, not education!  When you claim to hold education harmless by backfilling our budgets for the property tax reduction, then you shouldn't be assigning the expense to our budget share!  When we remove that $31.1 million in 2016, we actually drop even more.

"But we have fewer schools due to declining enrollment!" you say.  To the contrary, since 2010 Iowa student enrollment has increased 12,565 students, or 2.68%  (Iowa Department of Education enrollment figures for past 5 years).  And their needs are getting greater;
  • Special Education: deficits have exceeded $30 million in each of the last four years. 
  • Poverty: More Iowa students are living in poverty. 
    • Average % of Iowa students eligible for free and reduced lunch was about 27% ten years ago, now nearing 40% in FY 2011. 
    • District with the highest % of students eligible for FRL is nearing 80% of enrollment in FY 2011. • 
    • The range or gap between the lowest and the highest percentages has also increased over the same period. 
  • ELL: The growth in number of English Language Learners in Iowa is also significant.
So in retrospect, this argument may not be childish, but it still smells of special interests.  In a time of economic expansion, to unequivocally reject an offer of compromise on a school funding value appears to be right out of the ALEC playbook.  That's a dangerous group who's philosophy does not support public education.  Our Governor was a founding member back in 1973.

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