Statehouse News

Guest Column
Andy McKean
Iowa State Representative, 58th Dist.

Good News for Rural Iowa

     An important goal we should all support is to achieve as much educational equity as possible among our school districts. Every Iowa youngster deserves to have the same educational opportunities. This, unfortunately, is not always the case.

     One of the biggest areas of inequity between urban and rural districts has been in the area of transportation funding. Some rural school districts are spending as much as $1,000 per student per year just to get the student to school. When per pupil spending is in the vicinity of $10,000 per year, spending close to 10 percent of that on transportation obviously significantly cuts into what’s available for quality education in the classroom.

     For many years, rural legislators have been pressing for legislation to correct this inequity. I am glad to report that we are finally seeing some long overdue progress! In 2019, we appropriated $19 million to be divided among those rural school districts with the highest transportation costs. This year, we added an additional $7.3 million to this effort. Now, all Iowa school districts that are above the average in transportation costs will be receiving some additional support resulting in 204 school districts realizing much needed help.

     In the district I represent, Andrew, Maquoketa, Easton Valley, Midland, Olin, and Western Dubuque will directly benefit from this funding. Andrew, for example, will be receiving an additional $70,000. While this might not seem like a fortune, it can make a big difference for a rural school district.

     We need to do all that we can to support our small, rural school districts. Bigger is not necessarily better and our small schools can offer advantages that you often can’t find in the more impersonal larger districts. In addition, they play an important role in maintaining the integrity of our small communities. Correcting the inequity in transportation funding is a big help in keeping our small, rural school districts alive and well.

School Funding Bill Delayed, Conflicts with Senate

     House and Senate lawmakers have yet to resolve their differences on school funding for the upcoming school year. During debate on Tuesday, House Democrats offered a plan this week to invest $133 million in public schools next year, but majority party lawmakers want to provide less.

     School leaders across the state have said low state funding over the last decade isn’t keeping up with rising costs and hampers their ability to train the next generation of Iowa workers. The proposals offered by majority party lawmakers does not keep pace with rising costs at schools and will lead to more school closings, higher class sizes, and fewer opportunities for students.

     Iowans have always had great pride in our public schools. However, the state’s new investment in public schools has been the lowest in Iowa history over the last decade leading to the closure of 126 schools in Iowa. The low funding means public schools have been forced to increase class sizes and raise property taxes to make up for the shortfall in state funding.

     House majority party lawmakers prefer a 2.5 percent increase in basic funding for schools while Senate majority party lawmakers want just 2.1 percent. The bill, Senate File 2142, is now back in the Iowa Senate as lawmakers try to resolve their differences.

     By state law, the Legislature is required to enact school funding within 30 days to give school districts the time and ability to meet their required schedules for their budget decisions. The leaders of the current House and Senate will not be able to deliver school funding on time this year as per the law.


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