By David Osterberg
The decisions to close Polk Elementary School in Cedar Rapids and the Price Lab School at the University of Northern Iowa have the same underlying cause. The Iowa Legislature is underfunding education.
State law requires that the Legislature and governor can spend only 99 percent of the revenues that taxpayers all provide for the services we enjoy. This Legislature is spending less than that percentage but more important, lawmakers are cutting revenues through tax breaks so less money comes into the state.
The rainy day funds, designed to be called on when revenues are short, are full. There is a surplus. The Iowa House of Representatives has simply decided to appropriate less. Since about 60 percent of the state General Fund goes for education, school closings and program cutbacks are the result.
What we have is a failure of leadership and responsibility in governing. Our leaders have the means to support excellent educational endeavors but they have decided the residents want tax breaks more than services.
The Iowa Policy Project has produced two reports in as many weeks demonstrating shortfalls in spending. Last week, we demonstrated that a continuing decline in support for the regents’ universities goes back 10 years and that the University of Iowa is receiving
40 percent less in actual spending power than the state provided in 2000.
My organization soon will produce another report looking at funding for community colleges such as Kirkwood and support for private colleges such as Coe, Cornell and Mount Mercy University.
I wonder if we will find what we have seen in other areas: a state government that has abandoned educating our students so that businesses — including some large businesses that do not even pay income tax — can keep more of their profits, while services suffer for those same businesses, their employees and their customers.
Since we live in a democracy, this tax-cutting, education-starving strategy will get a hearing in the fall elections. However, schools are closing and programs are being cut right now. This might be the best time to let lawmakers know which approach best represents Iowa values of stewardship and careful investment.David Osterberg of Mount Vernon is the executive director of the non-partisan Iowa Policy Project in Iowa City. The reports he cites can be found at www.iowapolicyproject.org. He is a former Democratic state legislator. Comments: dosterberg@iowapolicy project.org