116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
For the fifth year in a row, Iowa Republicans are going to shortchange our public education from K-12 to college.
Their main K-12 funding bill for “supplemental state aid” cuts 137 school districts. Those districts must raise local property taxes on homeowners to fill the gap.
The House Republican budget proposes zero increase to cover inflation for the Regents and a mandated tuition freeze. Holding tuition fixed is nice, but with no state increase, inflation will eat into students’ education quality.
Shortchanging public schools isn’t new for Republicans. Since they took control in 2017, support for K-12 schools has fallen behind inflation. The market basket of goods and services schools can afford has shrunk.
Most K-12 spending is figured as the number of students times the “state cost per pupil.” If enrollment rises, total expenditures increase, of course, but that doesn’t mitigate the effect of inflation on the support for each kid. The state cost per pupil has to keep up. Cumulatively that number hasn’t the last four years.
How short is shown in the following table. The nonpartisan Legislative Service Agency went back to fiscal year 2017 and recalculated what state aid would have been had the per-pupil number made up for the previous year’s inflation (CPI), using actual enrollment numbers. The cumulative shortfall relative to inflation since 2017 has been nearly $295 million. Put another way, 97 percent of the $305 million state budget “surplus” last year was accumulated by stealing from our kids’ basic education.
For next year, the Republicans added a new wrinkle. While their increase in per-pupil cost is actually a sliver higher than inflation this time, their student count number everybody knows is wrong. Traditionally the student count comes from the previous October and usually goes up a couple thousand a year. Last fall, with the pandemic keeping many kids at home, the count actually fell 6,000. Everybody expects those 6,000 kids to be back in school next fall, plus two years’ worth of new students. We could have 10,000 unfunded students next fall, presenting a $70 million shortfall. Hence the property tax increases in 137 districts.
The story for colleges is no better. Since 2017, community college increases have not kept up with inflation, while Regents universities have actually been cut. Here are the numbers from the actual education budgets and the inflation-compensated alternatives. (Price changes for higher education are measured by the Higher Education Price Index or HEPI. Numbers here represent only values from the education budgets each year.)
The bottom line: Relative to inflation over the last four years, Iowa Republicans have cumulatively shortchanged K-12 by $294.7 million, community colleges by $54.5 million, and the state universities by $290.7 million.
So the next time you hear Republicans boasting about budgets and tax cuts, just remember that they accomplished that by stealing $640 million from our kids’ futures.
Sen. Quirmbach of Ames is the Ranking Member of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, on which he has served for 19 years including six as chair.