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Editorial: Increase public school funding

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 03, 2015 5:00 AM

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Under Gov. Terry Branstad, the state of Iowa has been fiscally conservative in budgets since 1983.

But what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to truly beneficial results for the people of Iowa.

The Iowa Legislature is at another school funding impasse. Democrats want an increase in spending, Republicans don’t. Things get complicated when prior laws dictating how much or how little school districts can spend on their children become outdated.

The formula dictating how much may be spent on students has been vocally criticized recently by the Davenport School District. The Des Moines Register reported the superintendent of Davenport public schools is threatening to simply break the law and spend more per child. He is concerned are that without a change in spending, staff cuts and larger class sizes will reign.

This formula that creates a minimum of what can be spent by districts per student was introduced in the 1970s with a noble intention. The minimum spending would require the state to supplement local property taxes, creating equity among school districts. The minimum amount per student spent today sits at $6,366 per student. The law also dictates how much more than the minimum can be spent.

That leaves certain districts with neighbors that spend up to 2.75 percent more per student; $175 a student might not seem like a lot, but it adds up very quickly, and is the difference between having enough teachers and struggling to provide a fruitful education.

State legislators have requested a “fix” to this problem from the Department of Education. The agency, in response, presented three possible avenues of action. One would raise the minimum for all districts, increasing property taxes. Another would force the districts spending more per student down to the state level, translating to about $19 million in cuts. The last would supplement the state level spenders to a 3 percent increase. The school districts already spending that much would receive nothing.

None of the options are great. Higher spending in education, and on teachers in particular, can lead to higher incentives for teachers and better educations for students. In turn, those students will go on to more lucrative positions, are more likely to stay instate, and will pay larger taxes thanks to their larger incomes. A long-sighted approach with the students in mind seems to be the most beneficial for the state and its educational system.

Schools across the nation are being pressured to produce certain scores while being undermined by budget cuts and restrictive curricula. Iowa is known for its solid public-education system. We can’t jeopardize something so critical to the future of the state and the nation.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes whatever “remedy” put in place should avoid cutting budgets in schools at all costs. They can’t continue to be shaved down and expected to maintain the sort of performance that receiving federal grant money is dependent on. The benefits are too great and the pitfalls too deep for the state to further deprive the public education system of the money it needs to survive and thrive.


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