Move forward with bill to equalize school funding
Three years ago I made a personal commitment and took a stand regarding the need for equal funding for every student and school district in the state of Iowa. I put my superintendent license in jeopardy in order to bring attention to this serious issue. The fight to assure all school districts enjoy equality in per pupil and transportation funding is, in my opinion, an economic and moral imperative. To put it simply, it is just not right that some students in the state are valued less than others.
The issue of inequality is not an isolated problem. There are 282 school districts out of a total of 333 who are funded at $100 per pupil or more below the maximum per pupil spending allowed in other districts in the state. This situation has been going on for the last 40 years. In Davenport, the difference in funding totals to more than $143 million that was not spent on student needs. The transportation inequality is equally problematic: 217 districts in the state have transportation costs per pupil that exceed the state average of $308. There are some school districts which are on the losing end of both inequalities, for example, Waterloo, Villisca, Lake Mills, Interstate 35, Chariton and Davis County.
The Legislature has been working toward fulfilling the promise of educational equality in the state of Iowa. Senate File 455 is a long-term fix which provides incremental funding increases over a 10-year period that will eventually allow each student to receive the same funding in every district in the state. The bill also will address the imbalance in transportation funding. This bill has already passed the Senate with a 47 to 0 vote, and passed the House Education Committee 24 to 1. I urge the House Appropriations Committee to move this bill to the House floor for a vote. The per pupil funding disparity has existed for too long. Even if it takes several years to fix, it is time to put a stake in the ground and make a bold statement that Iowans believe in education equality.
There is also a proposal for a short-term fix in the Senate. Senate File 304 allows districts to lower their maximum reserve funds, and use those funds to temporarily balance the per pupil inequity while holding the line on taxes. It is important that this bill be favorably considered in the Senate and sent to the House for consideration and approval. We should allow districts with adequate reserves to meet the needs of their students now, while waiting for a long-term correction to funding inequality. Reserves are meant to be used during times of extreme challenge; this is such a time.
I have been a superintendent for 18 years in five districts, reducing budgets for 15 of those years. I understand how hard it is to establish priorities and to spend within your means; I recognize that our state faces serious revenue problems. I have faith in our legislators, and I call upon all of our political leaders to come together and support every student in the state equally by passage of both long-term and short-term solutions to education funding. The inequality should no longer be tolerated. Our legislators have proved that they can craft legislation to solve complicated problems. Throughout the political process we all must keep in mind that our students and families are at the core of funding equality. Every one of them deserves equality now. They should not have to wait.
• Arthur W. Tate is the superintendent of Davenport Community School District. In March 2015, he announced publicly his intention to use district reserve funds without state approval in order to provide the same level of funding for his students that other districts receive. Based on that action, the director of the Iowa Department of Education filed a complaint with the Board of Educational Examiners, and Dr. Tate is currently being investigated for an ethics violation.