Fact Checker

Fact Checker: Has the Iowa GOP invested more in K-12 education?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Jan
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds delivers her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature on Jan. 12 at the Statehouse in Des Moines. (Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register via AP)

After being criticized by Statehouse Democrats over education proposals, Iowa Republican leaders touted their commitment to funding K-12 education in a guest column earlier this month in The Gazette.

The column was written by Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley and Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver.

The governor and Republican Statehouse leaders have faced criticism in recent weeks over “school choice” bills that would drive fewer taxpayer dollars to public schools. (The Fact Checker team looked into this earlier.)

Graded an B

There are a number of claims Reynolds, Grassley and Whitver made about their K-12 budgets, and about Democrats’ education spending more than a decade ago.

Analysis

Claim 1: “Since 2011, we have invested nearly $1 billion more in education.”

The Fact Checker requested sourcing from the Governor’s Office for this and other claims made in the guest column. For this first statement, officials sent a document from the Iowa Department of Management detailing state funding awarded over time for K-12 schools.

Supplemental state funding to districts has increased $1 billion over the past decade, starting at $2.4 billion in fiscal 2011 and reaching $3.4 billion in fiscal 2021, according to the document.

The claim does not account for inflation: $2.4 billion in January 2011 would be the equivalent of $2.85 billion in January 2021 — an increase, but not quite $1 billion.

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Claim 2: “…. Education funding represents 54 percent of our state budget, with our preK-12 programs getting 80 percent of that amount.”

This claim refers to the governor’s budget recommendations released in January. According to the document, proposed allotment for education is $4.4 billion, making up 54 percent of the more than $8.1 billion general fund recommendations for fiscal 2022.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, the fiscal 2022 recommendation is roughly a $38 million increase in education funding from the $945 million seen in fiscal 2021.

The document with the governor’s recommendations shows that the Iowa Department of Education could receive about $3.7 billion for fiscal 2022 — or about 80 percent of the $4.4 billion proposed spending for education, with the rest directed to the Board of Regents, college student aid and other entities.

However, these are just the governor’s recommendations and the final general budget has not been approved by the Legislature, so it’s not yet possible to say what percentage education spending will be of the overall state budget.

On Wednesday, lawmakers sent an education funding bill to the governor’s desk for her signature that falls short of her 2.5 percent increase in state funding to K-12 public schools for fiscal year 2022. Instead, the House and Senate passed a bill that approved a slightly smaller 2.4 percent increase.

Reynolds has not indicated any opposition to the bill, and is expected to sign it into law.

Claim 3: “When you factor in state, local and federal spending, it comes to roughly $14,000 per student, per year.”

This sentence from the guest column again is referring to the governor’s budget recommendations for fiscal 2022.

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An official with the Iowa Senate majority leader’s office provided a summary of all public school funding in Iowa, including the state general budget and other sources, such as SAVE, local tax dollars and federal allocations.

In total, funding to school districts across the state totals to about $7.5 billion. Doing the math, the summary appears to use the fall 2020 enrollment total — 484,159 students — to come up with the amount per pupil, which amounts to $15,574.

According to a summary of funding allocations on the Iowa Department of Education website, median spending per pupil for the current fiscal year is $12,416.

However, department spokeswoman Heather Doe noted the summary isn’t final. Because Iowa is in the middle of the school year, the summary doesn’t include a number of variables that need to be considered, such as income districts receive through grants.

The three claims from the guest column are mostly accurate. However, the second and third claims lack the context that they are referring to the governor’s recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year’s budgets, but instead make it seem as if these amounts are set in stone.

Because of that, these claims earn a B.

In their column, the governor and the Republican Statehouse leaders also criticized their political opponents for cuts education spending when they controlled the governor’s office, the House and the Senate from 2007 to 2010.

They wrote that “In 2008, (Democrats) actually cut education spending by 1.5 percent.” The column also states: “In 2009, Democrats cut education funding by 10 percent.”

In December 2008, then-Gov. Chet Culver did order a 1.5 percent across-the-board cut to the state budget, totaling to more than $91.4 million in savings. Again in October 2009, Culver issued an executive order to cut 10 percent from the state’s budget.

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School districts were impacted by these decisions. One report from the West Branch Times showed the 2008 cut resulted in a $49,000 reduction in state aid for West Branch schools.

The cuts took place around the time of the 2008 Great Recession. At the time of Culver’s decision to cut 10 percent of the budget, the state was expected to lose nearly $415 million in revenue for that fiscal year.

Most states cut funding to school districts after the recession hit, according to a 2017 report from the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, which also found that state aid to public schools has continued to decline in the years since. However, the report shows that unlike most states, Iowa’s total school funding per student increased 20.6 percent from 2008 to 2015, accounting for inflation.

While it had its impact on school districts, both budget cuts in 2008 and 2009 were not specifically directed at education.

The column did refer to an economic downturn as the reason Democrats “broke their promises” on education funding, but does not further explain that 2008 was the biggest economic meltdown the United States had seen since the Great Depression. As such, these claims earn a B.

Conclusion

Reynolds, Grassley and Whitver have support for their claims that the Iowa’s school districts have seen an increase in state funding over the past several years. However, its claims that reference the governor’s budget recommendations for the upcoming fiscal year are based on projections that may not entirely come to pass. Still, they are accurate to what Reynolds has put forth.

The claims about Democrats’ cuts to education spending were lacking context.

Together, the overall grade for the claims is a B.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Michaela Ramm of The Gazette.

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