Is education really a priority with the state?
“It’s like déjà vu all over again,” said Yogi Berra. Once again Iowa school finance is caught on the political football field of the Iowa legislature. And education’s cause is not helped by our governor pushing his own version of education reform.
As a former school board director, I know we’ve been down this road before – and relatively recently. Each year, local schools plan their budgets, including setting local tax levies. This requires the state legislature to determine allowable growth (the percentage increase per pupil they can expect from the state). Due to the economy, schools are coming off of a year of 0% allowable growth and hoping to see 2-4% for 2014.
However thanks to the governor’s education reform plan, which includes a study of teacher compensation, Governor Branstad is proposing a delay to setting allowable growth. The governor wants to wait a year to see what the study proposes before he sets allowable growth. This presumes the task force will not only have proposals, but that they will be adopted and effective on July 1, 2013.
Iowa law requires the legislature to set allowable growth within 30 days after the governor submits a budget proposal. Although the Senate met that deadline, passing legislation with 4% allowable growth, the House instead passed a bill to set allowable growth for two years on odd numbered years.
“What’s the problem?” you may ask. Well, by Iowa law, schools must issue contracts and certify their budgets by April 15 each year. And I’ll give you one guess which governor set that policy. Yup – Governor Branstad in his first round as Iowa’s governor.
But how can schools develop a budget and set their tax rates without knowing how much funding they will receive?
If education is really a priority, shouldn’t we be allocating the resources for schools to improve student achievement, implement the Iowa Core Curriculum already underway and prepare Iowa’s kids for the 21st century? These kids are already in school; how do they benefit if we cut funding for these programs midstream? And with Iowa’s economy showing signs of improvement, shouldn’t our children benefit?
Improving student achievement has less to do with making legislative policy changes than with providing the resources to make it happen. In point of fact, public officials’ job is taxing and spending – first and foremost. So I’d like my state legislature to get busy and fund our schools.
Because as a parent, while my daughter is in school, I want the legislature to make sure funds are available to keep her school operating. And before the legislature and governor go making radical changes to how my school operates, I want them to listen to my local teachers, principals and parents. We know our kids and our community, and we have been working together to develop a quality program.
And we’re not alone. Schools across Iowa have been working hard to improve their programs and meet the requirements of the last big school reform plan – No Child Left Behind.
So I think it’s time for the governor and legislature to pony up and put their money where their mouth is. Pass allowable growth, and make sure our kids’ education continues uninterrupted.
Cherie Miner is a local parent, community volunteer, freelance writer and artist. In a former life, she was a corporate writer and public relations professional. Contact her at email@example.com or on Facebook.