Educators Give School Funding Bill Poor Grade

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VAN METER, Iowa  --  The education spending bill heading to the governor’s desk is getting a bad grade from those who work in the classroom.

The bill would give Iowa schools a 1.1% funding increase over last year’s spending bill, working out to about $40 million in new money.

Educators had anticipated getting the 2% increase that Governor Branstad suggested, and now school superintendents like Shawn Holloway are coming to grips with the amount of money they'll have to work with next year.

“We’ll get about $48,000 in new money, with an 8.7% insurance increase, that’s going to cost the district about $54,000. So new money is gone at that point,” said Holloway.

Holloway says his Panorama Community School District has gone down in enrollment and has already lost staff.

“By the end of this year we will have reduced three teaching positions, a bus route, and a technology support person,” he says.

Holloway also says recent funding levels have given the district less than adequate teaching materials.

“It would be embarrassing if you would do an inventory of what our textbooks look like. We’re planning to get a new math series at the secondary level, that will be the first new textbook series we’ve had in at least five years,” he said.

Meanwhile, other districts say they’re just getting by. Van Meter School District is growing in enrollment, but under the new budget teaching positions will remain vacant.

“We like to keep our class sizes around 18 and now our class sizes are 23, 24, 25, 26, and now they’re going to continue to go up because we have less funds to hire more staff,” said Van Meter Superintendent Deron Durflinger.

Republicans who set the budget say it has less to do with funding, and more with cost.

“Their labor costs are going up quicker than the economy can sustain it. So those are things they have to look at, maybe contain the increase in labor costs at a smaller pace than what is current, and maybe that would help their budgeting issue. The revenue is just not increasing at a level that can sustain 3, 4, 5% increases in education, we just can’t do it,” said House Education Chairman Walt Rogers.

Republicans turn to the fact that K-12 state funding per pupil continues to rise, which, according to Legislative Service Agency, is accurate.

There have been only two out of the last ten years where state funding for public K-12 schools did not increase from the previous year: 2010 and 2013.

Those shortcomings were supplemented by federal and tax dollars to ensure total per-pupil funding increased from the previous years.

Superintendents are concerned over the future of federal education support, after Tuesday’s confirmation of Betsy DeVos as the new Secretary of Education.

“I think it’s very concerning that you have someone at the federal level that has no experience at all in public education, didn’t even attend a public school, now is in charge of leading public education,” said Durflinger.

DeVos has championed both private and charter schools.