Education is at heart of legislative stalemate
Recent news about the Iowa Legislature has focused on when we will adjourn. However, what matters more to Iowa families are the disagreements preventing adjournment.
The most important disagreement is education funding, something that directly affects economic prosperity.
Iowa’s families depend on educational opportunity. Education is the primary tool we have to give our children and grandchildren a leg up in life.
Investing in education is also key to building a stronger Iowa economy. Iowa’s schools help make Iowa’s workers among the nation’s most productive.
Rather than more tax giveaways for low-skill, low-wage jobs, we should promote the high-skill, high-wage jobs and businesses of tomorrow.
Educational leadership starts at our local schools. Today, Iowa invests $1,600 less per student than the national average, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
Sure, funding is not the only factor affecting student achievement, but don’t let people tell you it doesn’t make a difference.
Funding determines whether schools can hire and keep teachers and staff. Funding affects class size and how much individual attention each student receives. Funding makes it possible for schools to purchase up-to-date materials and invest in technology. Funding will determine if the education reforms launched in 2013 will succeed.
After several lean years for education, how much is enough? Education leaders say a 3 percent increase is needed to prevent Iowa from sliding further behind.
Republicans, who control the Iowa House, have proposed an increase of 1.25 percent and are refusing to budge. Democrats, the majority in the Iowa Senate, sought 4 percent but have proposed several compromises. Most recently, we offered to split the difference by going to 2.625 percent. That’s not enough, but it would prevent cuts at most schools.
And that’s where things stand today. House Republicans have taken a “my way or the highway” approach to negotiations. The Legislature is deadlocked because the “Republican way” means 1,000 fewer Iowa teachers, larger class sizes, and less individual attention for Iowa students.
The Democratic Senate and the Republican House also disagree on community college funding. Community colleges work with employers to address local skilled worker shortages and provide an affordable path to four-year schools.
Senate Democrats propose investing $8 million more for Iowa’s community colleges. House Republicans oppose any increase.
The Board of Regents has said that the tuition freeze can continue for another year under the Senate’s budget proposal. Senate Democrats also support an increase in tuition grants for Iowa students attending our private colleges.
In contrast, the budget plan approved by the House Republicans would mean a tuition increase. The House budget actually cuts funding for Iowa and Iowa State. It would also cut need-based private college tuition grants.
Making it more expensive for Iowans to get a college education would be a blow to Iowa’s economy. Iowa students already graduate with more student loan debt than students in most other states. That leads some graduates to leave the state in search of higher paying jobs elsewhere.
Here’s the fiscal bottom line: The Senate Democrats’ budget makes all of these investments in education while also maintaining our state’s rainy day accounts (more than $700 million) and an additional cash surplus of over $200 million more.
We can afford to invest in education and a stronger economy. In fact, we can’t afford not to.
There is no doubt the 2015 legislative session will come to an end, sooner or later. What matters most to Iowans, however, is not the date of adjournment. It is whether Iowa renews our investment in education and our commitment to the high-wage economy of the future.
ROB HOGG is a Democratic state senator from Cedar Rapids. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org