Senate passes transportation equity, education funding

Guest Column
Tod Bowman
Iowa State Senator, 29th Dist.

     Iowa’s route to a high-skill, high-wage economy depends on great local schools that prepare students for work and life. Iowans have traditionally placed a high value on quality public schools for our kids.

     Unfortunately, the Senate proposal for K-12 funding will reduce opportunities again this year. SF 2164 increases state funding for local schools by one percent for the 2018-19 school year, which is $22 million less than Governor Reynolds’ suggestion. The bill was approved by the full Senate on Feb. 7 on a 29-21 vote.

     A brief explanation of this bill: For the past roughly 40 years, when the legislature has voted on the school funding bill, it has always been on its own. Legislators have traditionally not “attached” another bill to the education funding bill, in an effort to refrain from abusing the bill to score political points.

     This year was different. An amendment that was voted upon right before the bill itself provides additional funds for transportation and equity, specifically for rural schools where transportation costs are higher. This amendment offers an additional $14 million for transportation and student equity, distributed on a per-pupil basis to schools all over Iowa. Additional funding like this provides the first step towards equity for our rural schools.

     This amendment is great for rural Iowa. I’ve supported and helped champion a transportation and equity funding initiative for the past several years. While I’m happy to see it pass, I’m disappointed it was attached to the state appropriation for schools bill that doesn’t even reach the funding levels recommended by Governor Reynolds.

     The bill includes a 1 percent increase in school funding. This bill does very little to meet the growing needs of our schools. Even Governor Reynolds proposed a 1.5 percent increase in funding. The bill the Senate passed, combined with the additional amendment for transportation equity, still falls $8 million short of the Governor’s recommendations.

     I agree with Governor Reynolds that we should at least reach 1.5 percent additional funds for our schools. We both believe we can and should do better by our students.

     Iowa ranks 34th on percent of funds spent on K-12 in FY17, according to a National Association of State Budget Officers report.

     Nearly 200 school board members, superintendents and Parents for Great Iowa Schools advocated for our kids’ education on Jan. 30 at the Statehouse. They need more than a 1 percent increase to address local goals and needs. Additionally, under the Senate Republican funding bill, over half of the schools will go on budget guarantee, which will raise property taxes statewide. When funding for schools isn’t sufficient, many districts are forced to raise property taxes to account for the difference. This property tax increase applies to 10 out of 14 school districts throughout my senate district.

     School staff members and school board members tell me that schools increasingly can provide only the bare minimum with the funding they’re receiving. This can be especially true in our rural areas, where the cost of busing students to the school doors dips into the money available to educate them.

     While this bill begins to address concerns about transportation expenses, it is another round of inadequate funding for our classrooms.


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