Education Funding in Iowa – what does it mean for our rural schools?-Ben Petty, Superintendent, BCLUW and GMG Community School Districts
On occasion, I may encourage parents, staff, and other members of the public to please speak out for adequate funding and resources for our schools. This is definitely one of those times we need “all hands on deck” if you advocate for a strong future for our rural schools in Iowa. The budget initially presented at the statehouse last week allows for only around 1% supplemental state aid (formerly called “allowable growth”) for Iowa schools. While there are some other categorical or restricted types of funds mentioned also, we rely on basic allowable growth as the amount of per-pupil new funding a school receives each year. This is the primary source of funding that we rely on for basic inflationary-type cost increases in schools from year to year; staffing, benefits, textbooks, supplies, diesel fuel, software, utilities, etc. The chart below shows the declining trend in allowable growth over the past couple decades, with growth at 2% or less in four of the past five years. While there may be some yearly variation, the trend line is obvious and unmistakable regarding the declining levels of new funding. With a rebounding economy, state revenues better than anticipated, and over a billion in reserves, I think Iowans deserve better than continued underfunding of our schools. While there is more to quality teaching and learning than “dollars & cents”, in rural schools that are also often facing declining enrollment trends, anything less than the 4 – 6% range of supplemental state aid / allowable growth (when compounded on top of several previous years low funding) is likely to lead to additional staff reductions, fewer course offerings, and less funds available for software, textbooks, and school supplies. Iowa currently ranks 35th in the nation in per pupil educational funding, over $1,600 below the national average. I believe Iowa can, and should, do better for our children if we are to provide them a world-class education. When it comes to educational issues, legislators need to hear from more than just school administrators and lobbyists. They need to hear from our parents and community members – there is not “someone else” to do this advocacy for education! You can find contact information for your local legislators at “Find by Zip” – https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators. Please encourage them to provide adequate resources – specifically “supplemental state aid” (allowable growth) for education – our students, families, communities, and Iowa’s economy are worth the investment!