Floor action will begin soon in the Iowa Senate. One of the first bills to pass this week will satisfy an annual deadline involving school funding. Iowa law requires that the Iowa Legislature passes the next year’s supplemental state aid (SSA) number within 30 days after the governor releases her budget. SSA is the percent increase from this year’s spending.
The reason this requirement exists is due to Iowa law also requiring local school boards to certify a budget in March. We are required to give those school boards time to develop their budget, set wages, and make plans for future actions that are based on the amount of tax dollars available. Some years the legislature has failed to pass SSA until later in the session. This causes problems for school districts that often are forced to make personnel cuts or other serious action, only to find out later that those actions were unnecessary.
Iowa taxpayers invest over $7 billion in K-12 education each year. The largest portion of this funding comes from sales and income taxes collected and appropriated from the General Fund. The next largest amount comes from local property taxes. This coming week, both Senate and House will pass a SSA increase of 2.06% over the current year. This equates to over $81 million new tax dollars going to cover public education in K-12. When you count all funding sources, Iowa schools are receiving $14,600 per student.
The funding package also includes $7.8 million in transportation equity spending to bring the total in new money for K-12 education to $89.3 million. Senate Republicans started last year insisting on finding a way to help our rural schools with student bussing expenses, eventually leading to an equal amount of funding for each student, rural or urban, once they enter the school door. This is the equity I am seeking for western Iowa schools. Our intent is that this isn’t additional spending but a formula within the education package, tailoring our appropriation to the needs of each district.
To put this number in historical perspective, since Fiscal Year 2011 funding for kindergarten through 12th grade has increased $845 million. To be fair, schools see increases in expenses every year. Wages, supplies, equipment, and vehicles are all subject to inflation. So in making these decisions it is helpful to see what other states are doing. It turns out that we are ranked highly compared to other states in appropriation increases to K-12 spending.
This amounts to an incredible amount of money. There will always be a need to find ways to cut and find efficiencies. Also, this much of your money cannot be spent without expecting results. Recent national headlines show Iowa to be leading the way. We rank #1 in graduation rates. More importantly to me, Iowa ranks #1 in concurrent enrollment, in which students take college credit courses while still in high school. I believe this will become one of the most important characteristics of successful states in the future.