KRESSIG: "WE`RE NOT DOING WHAT WE NEED TO DO FOR K-12 IN IOWA"
By Christinia Crippes
CEDAR FALLS | The impassioned debate over how much to grow state spending on education that took place at the Iowa Statehouse this last week spilled over into the Cedar Valley on Friday. Educators turned out in force at a legislative forum at the Area Education Agency 267 to decry the bill passed in the Iowa House this week that would increase allowable growth, or supplemental state aid, for schools by 1.25 percent. Educators support a growth rate of 6 percent.
“Iowa has been recognized in the past as having excellent education. My question is how will it be able to maintain excellence in education at the proposed rate of 1.25 percent?” asked Janice Judisch, a special education consultant at AEA 267.
Both Judisch and Central Middle School teacher Tracy Richmond argued that the low increase is not best for Iowa’s kids. Richmond said the increase essentially amounts to a decrease because it doesn’t keep up with inflation.
“The condition of our state, the condition of our future, it depends on our kids,” Richmond argued.
The Democratic lawmakers cheered him on, but the Republican who are in a majority in the Iowa House were in the minority on Friday night defending the House-passed rate.
Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, said his job entails not only providing a budget that is sustainable for Iowa’s schools but also one that is sustainable for the entire state. He said the Legislature is still trying to get education funding out of the hole that was dug due to across-the-board budget cuts during the recession.
Rogers said the state has added $600 million during the past five years to education spending.
But Iowa Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, was not impressed with that figure.
Schoenjahn said that dollar figure represents $120 million per year, which amounts to about $80 per Iowa student per year. He further took out the funds that he attributes to education reform efforts, which he said means an increase of $63 per student per year.
“That won’t buy you a textbook, let alone a laptop,” said Schoenjahn, who chairs the education budget subcommittee. “We’re at a point where we’re saying that’s simply not enough for the Senate.”
Rogers and the Democratic lawmakers also sparred over the larger picture and how much the legislators can spend for the upcoming fiscal year.
Rogers, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, said the difference in determining the lawmakers’ spending limit amounts to $300 million. While Republicans argue for the lower funding to be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, Democrats see needs and that the state can legally spend the additional money without violating balanced budget requirements.
Allison Rasmussen, a Waverly-Shell Rock School District educator, said she appreciates the need to spend money in a balanced way but she argued that the state of school spending has reached an emergency status, justifying spending funds rather than putting them into state savings.
“Well, my friends, it’s not raining in Iowa schools. It’s pouring,” Rasmussen concluded.
Iowa Rep. Sandy Salmon, R-Janesville, who represents a portion of the school district’s area, answered by saying that the lawmakers are looking at ways of easing restrictions on how schools spend the dollars they get to perhaps make money available in particularly strapped areas. She also suggested the state could delay implementation of certain education reform spending to better fund schools in more urgent areas.
Rasmussen said, though, the problem is the schools need more money not just more discretion in how to spend money.
Salmon, like Rogers, said that the 1.25 percent increase, and expected increases in Medicaid costs will take up much of the additional revenue the state lawmakers are able to spend this year.
Democrats, however, argued the state could -- and should -- better prioritize education funding in its budget.
“Folks, the reality is we’re not doing what we need to do for K-12 in Iowa. It’s so obvious,” said Iowa Rep. Bob Kressig, D-Cedar Falls.