School Funding Issues Addressed At Town Hall Meeting
Senator Jack Kibbie and Representative John Wittneben discussed allowable growth for schools and preschool funding with two school superintendents last Saturday morning.
Kibbie opened the conversation stating that the Senate has passed 2-percent allowable growth. The House passed their own with 0-percent.
“So we plan on amending the House file with 2-percent and sending it back to them,” said Kibbie. “That’s a way to bring this to a conclusion. So if they insist on that 0-percednt, which we expect them to do, then there will be a conference committee picked to settle the differences between the House and the Senate.”
Art Pixler, Superintendent at Sentral Community Schools, asked Kibbie, “The preschool funding is actually tied up as far as line item general aid formula, isn’t it?”
Kibbie answered yes.
“The governor’s not going to veto all the aid so why are we messing around?” questioned Pixler.
“That’s a good question,” said Kibbie. He explained that the last bill to be passed at the end of the session has the bulk of the money it in, including K-12 funding, that goes on year after year.
“The K-12 formula is in there about $2.5 billion,” said Kibbie. “The difference we’re talking about is a small percentage of that. Last year we rolled the preschool money into the funding formula. Our people didn’t want us to do that now they’re glad we did. So the House has repealed the preschool statute. That doesn’t keep the money out of that standing bill.”
Kibbie said he and other legislative leaders meet with the governor once each week.
“Last week he (Governor Branstad) said he’s going to insist on a two-year budget and he’s going to insist on zero allowable growth for schools,” said Kibbie. “He said he’s going to veto every bill that comes down there that’s not a two-year budget Two year budgets basically take away legislative control over the budget.”
“Can he line item out some of those?” asked Doc Frevert.
“He could line out any line that’s got an appropriation in it, in any appropriation bill,” answered Kibbie. “But on the school aid formula that’s pretty hard to do. So I would think he’d pretty much have to veto the whole bill.”
“Is the House version of allowable growth right now at zero? Is that backfill? Because two-percent is about the most efficient point where it’s not going to get thrown back on the taxpayers local property owners,” said Pixler. “Two-percent is a lot better than 0-percent to property tax because it’s the least impact.”
Wittneben noted, “The original plan for preschool was going to be $79.1 million this year. The governor wanted to eliminate that program and go to a voucher system, put $43 million into it. The House Republicans wanted to pub $33 million into it. The preschool voucher was HR535 that we just went through this week.”
He added, “To leave 7,000 kids behind due to underfunding these are kids that would qualify for vouchers, but they wouldn’t receive them because there wouldn’t be enough money there.”
Kibbie added, “One district superintendent sent me an e-mail: if we do 2-percent allowable growth he’ll have to raise property taxes 20-cents per thousand. If we don’t increase 2-percent allowable growth, he’ll have to raise property taxes 80-some cents per thousand. So that’s basically what we’re dealing with because a lot of school districts, especially in my district have declining enrollment. They don’t have budget guarantee, so there’s not any extra money even with allowable growth. They’re going to get more money but they aren’t going to get the full amount because of declining enrollment. So you take a school district losing 20 students – $7000 a student – $140,000 how much salaries does that pay? It’s the heat, lights and salaries of the school district.”
Pixler countered, “The issue is beyond that, for superintendents is the authority.”
“The spending authority. Some groups are opposed to giving the superintendents and school boards spending authority. What that means is if we don’t fund our allowable growth they still have spending authority either spending cash reserve or property tax to do what they did the year before. It’s not that simple but that’s basically what it is. Last year we went through this same debate on spending authority and that was dealing with a 10-percent across the board cut. At that time, statewide there was over $400 million in cash reserves in the K-12 schools in Iowa.”
“I’ve got cash. Give me the authority to spend it,” said Kibbie.
Pixler and Emmetsburg Community School Superintendent John Joynt expressed additional concerns on losing funding for preschools.
“From my perspective, I think children are our future,” said Maureen Horsley, a nurse practitioner. “Go ahead and stay strong with regard to the preschools. We know from research that’s been done in the 1960s , the very beginning of the Head Start program, that it makes a huge difference in getting children into college and later on getting them better paying jobs so they’ll be able to be taxpaying citizens and contribute to our society and our economy. There are a lot of rural communities that have no alternative and we need to have preschools available to them.”