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Letter to the Editor

BY DI READERS | MARCH 13, 2015 5:00 AM

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You’ve got to wonder what other states think of the debate Iowa is having over local school funding.

Davenport’s school superintendent, Dr. Art Tate, recently announced his plans to disobey state school funding laws in order to do right by students in his district.

I don’t condone law breaking, but Dr. Tate’s threat is just one of many examples of Iowans becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of commitment that Governor Branstad and legislative Republicans have to local schools.

Now is the time that Iowa schools should be setting their budgets, making staffing decisions and carefully planning how to best use their funds to increase student achievement.

Yet, at the same time we are telling Iowa schools and students that we expect more from them, Governor Branstad and Republican legislators tell them to expect less from the state.

The people leading our local schools are preparing for the next school year.  They are being forced to make decisions that they know will:

Jam more students into already crowded classrooms.

Push talented, successful, caring teachers out of the classroom and, perhaps, out of the profession.

Eliminate or cut back Advanced Placement and language courses, art, music, drama, sports and other activities that help keep kids actively engaged and help them compete for jobs in the 21st century. 

Twenty years ago, Iowa did much better relative to the rest of the nation in funding education than we do today.

Iowa is losing its lead and losing our reputation as an education leader because other states are investing more and passing us by.

Davenport’s superintendent pointed out specific problems with the school funding formula, a complex issue that the state has made some progress in addressing. 

But the pressing issue facing all our local schools and the Legislature is much more straightforward than the funding formula.

Governor Branstad and the House Republicans are stuck at a 1.25 percent increase in basic state funding for schools -- an amount that guarantees Iowa will slide farther behind other states.

According to Iowa’s superintendents, 1.25 percent means fewer teachers, more crowded classrooms and fewer choices for our students. 

Last year, Senate Democrats followed state law. We approved a 6 percent increase for our local schools to begin this July.  House Republicans and Governor Branstad made no response.

This year, we have voted for a compromise: a 4 percent increase.

Four percent is enough to change directions.  Four percent will stop Iowa’s free fall and start improving Iowa’s standing among the states when it comes to education.

Four percent would show students, parents and educators that the state will stop undermining the excellent public education system that supports our economy and high quality of life.

That’s why Senate Democrats are pressing for 4 percent.

That’s why we urge Legislative Republicans and Governor Branstad to start listening to Iowans and join us in supporting Iowa’s schools.

We know our students are not worth less. We know they are worth more than what the Governor and Legislative Republicans are offering.

Senator Mike Gronstal is the Majority Leader of the Iowa Senate


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