Iowa schools are getting a better deal

Brad Wymer, biology teacher, reviews details during a meeting to talk about their trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City on Wednesday, May. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Brad Wymer, biology teacher, reviews details during a meeting to talk about their trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands at Iowa City West High School in Iowa City on Wednesday, May. 10, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

A recent guest columnist alleged that the Republican-led Legislature has cut funding for K-12 schools (“The truth behind school funding cuts,” May 9). Fortunately for Iowa schools, this is undeniably false as funding has increased by more than $735 million over the last seven years.

Here’s what those funding increases look like:

• FY12 — $178 million

• FY13 — $29 million

• FY14 — $63 million (plus $57 million in one-time funding)

• FY15 — $149 million

• FY16 — $37 million (plus $50 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

• FY17 — $82 million (plus $53 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

• FY18 — $40 million (plus $54 million in Teacher Leadership funding)

Total state investment in K-12 schools now totals nearly $3.2 billion per year, which accounts for 44.5 percent of all general fund spending.

In order to find the last time that schools had their funding reduced by the state, one needs to go back to 2009 when former Gov. Chet Culver ordered two across-the- board cuts, a 1.5 percent and a 10 percent, costing schools $259 million. These across-the-board cuts devastated school budgets and left property taxpayers on the hook to make up the difference.

This hasn’t happened since Republicans took the majority in the Iowa House.

This session, the Legislature’s first order of business was to make budget reductions after revenue estimates were not coming in at the level that was anticipated, due to low commodity prices and the lagging farm economy. From the beginning, House and Senate Republicans, along with Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, took K-12 education cuts off the discussion table and held them harmless.

The second order of business in the legislative session was passing a responsible level of funding that schools could depend on. We passed a funding increase of $40 million in the first 30 days of session so that schools could begin planning their budgets.

It’s crystal clear that K-12 schools continue to be a top priority for the Legislature. While most areas of government have seen budget reductions in the last number of years, funding for schools has only gone up.

Another important thing to note is that for the first time in several years, the Legislature actually discussed and passed legislation that addressed a number of education issues outside of how much more money schools would receive. We gave schools more flexibility by easing some of the burdensome restrictions on certain “silos” of funding that accumulated large balances from year to year. We made it easier for districts to use those unused funds on the specific needs of their students and teachers.

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We provided schools with home rule authority so that local school boards can innovate and make decisions that are best for their students.

Finally, we started a conversation about funding inequities. Whether it’s transportation costs, English language learning or the per pupil rate, each school has its own unique challenges and opportunities. While no resolution was reached on this subject due to a tight budget, discussions have begun, and we will continue to look into this during the interim.

• State Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, is chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee

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