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Local legislators gather to discuss education

BY CARTER CRANBERG | JANUARY 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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In an effort to bring attention to Iowa’s education budget changes, the League of Women Voters of Johnson County sponsored an open forum at Iowa City’s City Hall on Jan. 25.

Concern about the lack of money allocated to schools in the past year was expressed by Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who noted that Iowa schools received a 0 percent growth in funding over the last year in what she referred to as a result of Gov. Terry Branstad’s two-year budget.

The forum allowed the organization, as well as the public, to ask questions of the legislators in attendance to instigate budget discussion.

Those present consisted of Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, and Rep. Sally Stutsman, D-Riverside, in addition to Mascher.

“The league is dedicated to having informed voters, and this meeting is how we inform those voters, as well as give the community a chance to tell the legislators what they want,” said Barbara Beaumont, the president of the League of Women Voters.

The two-year budget allowed for school funding to be broken down and altered on a yearly basis, leading to the 0 percent increase.

“Typically, in the past, we have given schools a 4 percent increase in funding; however, last year’s 0 percent increase led to the schools needing to cut spending and programs so that they could stay afloat with rising insurance costs and other financial strains they face every year,” Mascher said.

Bolkcom stressed there is a gross lack of funding for schools, and Iowa is now roughly $15,000 under the national average in investment per student.

Bolkcom said he will propose a 6 percent increase in school funding next week as a means to offset damages incurred from this academic year’s stagnation in financial aid.

The senators and representatives discussed pushing for a policy known as allowable growth, which will enable schools to receive a 4 percent bonus annually to assist in costs.

However, they cited the main obstacle is Branstad’s intention to implement another two-year budget rather than set a consistent percentage of increase in funding.

Ben Mosher, the president of the Iowa City Education Association, asked what could be done to help the impoverished schools.

Legislators agreed that while they were working on the proposals and accumulating support, the key to making a change was for the public to express its concerns to the governor.

“Schools and citizens need to be contacting and pounding the governor to allocate money for this growth,” Mascher said. “We need to look into expanding community colleges and tuition freezes to help educate more of our children. These will create an enormous boost in kids’ ability to get a good-paying job.”

She said the issue is not a lack of money but rather a need to rethink where it is being placed.

“We have the money, but we shouldn’t just spend it on higher level students and private schools,” Jacoby said. “Instead, we should be working to support low-income families and community colleges in order to bring up everyone and create equality in education.”

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, did not attend the event, but he later said while the 0 percent growth had been hard on schools, it was a much-needed budget cut because of the state’s $800 million debt.
As a result of this cut, he said, Iowa has seen a surplus and can now more diligently review its education funding.

“It was the responsible thing to do in lieu of recession and a $800 million deficit at state level,” Baltimore said. “It was prudent to hold funding at 0 percent the first year and 2 percent the second year to help fix the deficit. By holding the spending level, you allow revenues to catch up.”

Bolkcom’s proposed increase in funding will go before the Legislature next week.


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