Dems: House Leader Mark Smith: Inside the Iowa House, Excuses Won’t Fix Iowa’s Broken School Funding

March 14, 2016

We reached another important deadline in the Legislature this week designed to help us narrow down the bills eligible for debate as we close in on adjournment.  There are a few bills nearing consensus, but the major issues facing us – public school funding and Medicaid privatization — are still being ignored by House Republicans.

While still over a year late setting basic funding for public schools for the upcoming school year, Republicans killed a bill approved by the Senate to set school funding for public schools for the 2017-18 school year as well. That means we’re now two years behind.  I wanted to share with you an editorial that appeared in the Quad City Times on Friday.  It explains the “whole story” in the Davenport School District, but their story certainly isn’t unique because I am hearing similar stories from schools all over Iowa. 

I believe it’s time to make public schools our top priority again.

Editorial: Excuses won’t fix Iowa’s broken school funding

Another year, another lap around the block for Iowa House’s can-kicking parade.

Feckless Republican lawmakers refuse to address the inherent inequality in the state’s school funding model. They’re “studying” the problem, House Republicans parrot. It will take “multiple sessions” to address the issue, they disingenuously protest, as the frustration grows in the community. Tell both sides of the story, Rep. Ross Paustian said in Wednesday’s Quad-City Times.

Davenport is just missing out on about $3 million a year. It’s just getting shorted by a couple dozen teachers, a mountain of new computers or a bolstered arts program. Its high school students will graduate without the amenities enjoyed by other districts on the winning end of the state-centralized unfairness that Des Moines levels on school districts.
What’s the rush?


Here’s the real story, Rep. Paustian: Students, faculty and residents within Davenport Community School District are reminded daily of their second-class status. It’s an objective fact. And, frankly, the Iowa Legislature has spent years debating, ducking and ignoring the issue.
You’ve already had those “multiple sessions.” And you’ve done nothing.

Those “multiple sessions” included legislation by Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, that would permit districts to plug the short-term gap with reserve funds. Thede again introduced her bill this year. And, once again, it went nowhere. House Republicans killed it, arguing that, down the road, property taxes would spike once the rainy-day funds were spent.

Yet another hollow excuse from lawmakers uninterested in pumping much-needed cash into public education. Even if just a Band-Aid, Thede’s pitch would have provided many schools with the money needed right now. And, just maybe, the coming reckoning when the reserves run out would finally force action from a legislature that’s spent years punting on the problem.
The “whole” story doesn’t stop here.

Iowa spends almost $1,000 less on each K-12 student than the national average. And the state ranks in the lower third in per-pupil spending among the states, says the Urban Education Network of Iowa. State aid — as a proportionate of total spending — dipped over the past several years. Local taxpayers are tasked with picking up the slack. Yet, the state’s disdain for local control limits districts’ ability to raise taxes.

Schools are trapped, held captive by state government unwilling to submit to home rule.

Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to rob Peter to pay Paul, by routing some funds designated for school construction projects toward water quality issues, is a non-starter in the Democratic Senate. Both issues are real. Both require cash. Both require independent funding streams to properly serve Iowans.

So, here we are. Davenport Superintendent Art Tate is ready to break the law and enact the very budgetary maneuver that Thede hoped to legalize. State education officials declined comment on the potential repercussions Tate’s potential insubordination. But it’s a very real possibility that Tate’s career could be over once the district starts spending down its reserves.

The Branstad administration will have to act unless it’s prepared for a wave of copy cats. Tate’s civil disobedience is symptomatic of boiling frustration with Iowa’s busted school funding model.

House Republicans need more time, they say. They are studying the issue, they pledge. They are concerned about a funding system that creates have and have-not districts, they contend.

But the House majority has spent years ducking the issue. They have sidestepped hard decisions for political expediency. They have proven that electioneering outstrips public education.

All the bluster to the contrary coming from the House is nothing but lip service.

Tags: , , , , ,

TCR's Iowa Legislative Updates provides content from the leadership of each party's caucus in both the Iowa House and Iowa Senate. We hope you find this to be a valuable resource.

We'd love to hear from you! Feel free to email us by clicking here.