Discussion Continues At The Iowa House Over School Funding
Oskaloosa, Iowa – How will Iowa schools be funded in the near future? That question continues to come up every year in the Iowa Legislature.
This year, the Iowa Senate, controlled by Democrats, passed a 4% allowable growth plan. The Iowa House is currently working on its own proposals, and Governor Branstad has his own funding ideas he would like to see integrated into the plan. This all needs to be done before March 1 of this year to help Iowa school superintendents finish their budgets.
Last Tuesday, Mahaska County’s senior statesman, Guy Vander Linden, said that the education committee is hard at work on the governor’s education bill. “We’re expecting something out of there by the end of the month”. [February 1, 2013]
When asked about the impending deadline for schools and their budgets, Vander Linden said, “Everybody is aware that we need to be making a timely decision on funding for next year, and for the year after as a matter of fact. The governor is insisting that we deal with his education bill before we start talking about funding.”
The senate then passed the 4% allowable growth on Tuesday, at nearly the same time I was speaking with Vander Linden. With that passage, it leaped ahead of the governor’s proposals. “So it will be interesting,” Vander Linden said of the various legislation floating around. “One house’s cart is ahead of the others horse so to speak.”
Larry Sheets (R), who represents the eastern portion of Mahaska County, also offered his thoughts about school funding. Sheets carries an interest in school funding since spending time serving on a school board.
“The situation we find ourselves in now is, we have the Governors position, that completely changed the way things are done. And I can go along with that because the way things are done [are] not really all that good. At least for the smaller schools,” Sheets said.
Sheets says he understands that superintendents need to know what is going to happen with funding so they can plan a budget.
An issue that has Sheets attention is also finding ways for schools to recover from a negative balance sheet without being forced to close the school. “Allowable growth is kind of like the angel of death for small schools,” Sheets said.
Sheets has used that expression before in regards to school closure, and he explained more in depth what he means by “Angel of Death.”
Sheets explained the formula that is used in school funding and the spending authority and its connection. “In every year, presumably, there’s an allowable growth that’s added to it and every year money is taken out of it. It’s not real money. Actually, it’s just like your checkbook or your credit card limit.
“But if that [school] budget goes negative two years in a row, the Department of Ed. [Education], from the statute says ‘may’, but in reality I think their acting as if it’s a ‘shall’, terminates the school and finds places for the students to go.”
In the southern part of Sheets district, he’s identified this situation in several school districts.
Senator Ken Rozenboom, who sits in the Democrat controlled senate, for Iowa District 40 added this, in regards to the impending deadline for Iowa’s school superintendents, “I think we understand the pressure and I think as a party we’re recognizing that deadline. On the other hand, I know the Governor and I would agree with him that we need to have that discussion in the context of a bigger discussion about education reform. Before we get lost in the details of how we’re just going to throw more money at the same problem, we probably need to have a discussion about the problem itself.”
In a recent meeting with Governor Branstad, Rozenboom said the governor reinforced that “we need to get something done.”