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Why So Tough?

By Staff | Apr 5, 2016

It is with great interest that I saw the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives both voted on and approved a school aid funding appropriation of 2.25 percent recently, some two months earlier than last year. Of course, the agreement was a compromise, with one party pushing for a four percent figure and the other party supporting two percent. Now, all that remains is for a signature by the Governor to allow our school districts to be able to work their budgets for the coming school year.

But one question remains why is it such a battle to arrive at a school aid figure each year, when all we hear is how important it is to educate our youth?

It’s a baffling question, to be sure. On one hand, you have the continued push to improve scholastic scores of Iowa students; the push to meet impossible national educational standards and the never-ending efforts of local educators to do just that to help our children learn and achieve in the classroom and life.

But yet, on the other hand, we have lawmakers who feel it is more important to worry about what bathroom a trans-gender individual should use, rather than making sure Johnny and Susie can read and write. Add in the standard partisan bickering that takes place in state government, and the long track record of the Legislature in missing the yearly deadline on setting student aid this year, they only missed by 41 days and you have what appears to be a perpetual machine of the worst kind.

Is there and easy answer to break such deadlocks? Is there a way to get our lawmakers to re-focus on the basic idea that government should not and must not hold education of our most precious resource hostage each year?

I don’t know but I can say there should be.

Over the years, I’ve sat through many a school board meeting where the budgeting process has been explained, and one of the simple facts is that school budgets are very precise and delicate balancing acts. A district has limits that it can spend, limits on what it can tax for, and limits on what can be paid for from which budget area. When a district slips up, there can be consequences most unpleasant.

To build those budgets, Superintendent’s have to don a fortune teller’s headdress sometimes to try and figure out what the lawmakers in Des Moines are going to do with school funding. Some may try to be optimistic, and hope for a level of say, three percent. Others are more cautious, and bet on no increases, while hoping against hope they can stretch their budgets through a year with no state increases. But, if some increase is given, it is a welcome gift.

There have been some districts who assume the absolute worst-case scenario when they budget, and prepare for staff reductions, which in turn stresses both the administrators and staff members who face the potential layoff if the funding doesn’t turn up.

There are other factors that play into the situation, such as taxable valuations and long-term debt, but the State Aid still plays the primary role each year. It still defies explanation that our elected state lawmakers can continue to sport their cavalier attitude regarding education funding year after year, and yet, they continue to wonder why Iowa must battle so hard to maintain its reputation for educational excellence.

If lawmakers can’t follow their own rules and deadlines to set state aid each year, then they should not concern themselves with issues such as school mascot names and school start dates.