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Branstad slashes education funding

BY HAYLEY BRUCE and RYAN COLE | JANUARY 28, 2011 7:10 AM

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Iowa’s regent universities will receive $75 million less in state appropriations than they previously requested for fiscal 2012 under Gov. Terry Branstad’s budget released Thursday.

The proposed $6.16 billion budget which Branstad called “honest, frugal, and balanced” also includes a freeze on state spending for K-12 education and wide-ranging cuts that could cost hundreds of state employees their jobs.

“Education took a devastating blow today,” said Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, noting the proposed cuts will most likely lead to layoffs across all levels of education, increased tuition, and a reduced quality of education statewide.

But Sen. Shawn Hamerlinck, R-Dixon, said while legislators don’t like to cut education funding, he believes the governor’s reductions are necessary for balancing the state’s budget.

“We cannot follow the lead of other states, where when they had problems, they just decided to dig a bigger hole and hide in the shadows,” he said. “I would rather have a painful decision today than debate state bankruptcy four, five, six years from now.”

University of Iowa Student Government Sen. Lee Henely, who met recently with state legislators regarding budget issues, said the cuts are “concerning” and would pose a problem for career training and preparation.

“If [the government] wants to retain students in the state, I think a stronger commitment to public higher education is something the governor should consider,” he said.

Officials said primary education will also suffer this year if the governor’s budget is approved.

Branstad proposed zero allowable growth for K-12, meaning no school districts would receive additional money.

While the cut is expected to cause layoffs in other districts, Iowa City School District Superintendent Steve Murley said Iowa City has a unique caveat in its increasing enrollment.

Because Iowa City enrollment has been growing rapidly, funding for the district has already increased for this year and next year. Some of that funding could continue to carry over into future years, Murley said, offsetting any losses.

“We will probably be able to preserve most of our staff,” Murley said. “But assuming we get new kids next year, it’s not unlikely that our class size might go up as a result of that.”

Branstad’s budget also proposes allocating $43 million annually to providing preschool to underprivileged families — a far smaller amount than advocates had asked for but still more than cuts proposed in a budget bill debated in the House last week.

On Thursday, Branstad called for an “education summit” in which he would bring state and national education leaders together this summer to discuss changes to Iowa’s education system. He also plans to convene a special session of the Iowa Legislature next fall to approve the changes.

“We must provide financial stability to our schools while we engage in a historic effort to reform our schools and restore preeminence in educational performance,” Branstad said in his budget address in Des Moines.

Despite the cuts in education, legislators agreed on the importance of retaining graduates for Iowa’s economy.

“I would say all education is a priority in the fact that it’s your ability to turn around the most immediate workforce,” Hamerlinck said. “We are phenomenal at educating [students], and the minute [students] graduate we export [them] like crazy.”


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