Government

Branstad opens fiscal 2017 Iowa budget hearings

Refuses to commit to 2.45 percent education funding boost, but still wants some growth

Governor Terry Branstad delivers the Condition of the State address at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Governor Terry Branstad delivers the Condition of the State address at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad opened a new state budgeting cycle Monday by refusing to commit to a 2.45 percent boost in state aid to schools he proposed last year, but indicating that other budget areas may face spending cuts to insure another year of growth in education funding.

Branstad told reporters he wanted to see a December state revenue estimate that establishes how much tax revenue will be available for general fund spending before assembling his fiscal 2017 spending plan. The state Revenue Estimating Conference already shaved that growth estimate by $125 million last month.

The six-term governor submitted a two-year budget blueprint last January that called for a 2.45 percent boost in supplemental state aid to K-12 schools beginning next July 1, but the state’s economic outlook has soured a bit by the effects of a bird flu outbreak and farm commodity prices below the cost of production, he said.

“It’s my hope that we can do that,” Branstad said in response to questions whether 2.45 percent growth to schools was still his position, “but it’s going to be a little more difficult.”

Branstad, who last July signed a 1.25 percent increase in base K-12 education spending for the current fiscal year, has taken criticism from school administrators, education groups and legislative Democrats for vetoing a separate provision that would have provided nearly $56 million in one-time surplus funds for K-12 public districts.

“We absolutely needed the money that was vetoed,” said Martha Bruckner, superintendent of schools in Council Bluffs, who attended the governor’s weekly news conference to tout positive results from the first year of a 2013 teacher leadership and compensation program that earmarked $150 million for the initiative over three years.

“But what we do need is a balance,” she added. “We need the balance of support for programs such as teacher leadership, but we also need the grass roots level to help us live day to day. Oh, yes, I’m hoping there will be more.”

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Branstad noted that education currently gets about $3 billion annually of the state’s $7 billion general fund spending, along with a one-cent state sales tax that generates about $458 million for school infrastructure that includes things like computer and school bus purchases.

The governor said education will be a priority in the fiscal 2017 budget, “and we’re willing to cut other areas of the budget” as he assembled a spending plan. He noted the state already is switching to a managed care approach to Medicaid funding and taking other state’s to build more efficiency and cost effectiveness into government operations.

During Monday’s news conference, Ryan Wise, director of the state Department of Education, issued student achievement results in reading and math that showed positive gains for schools both participating in the teacher leadership initiatives and others not among the 39 selected for the first year of implementation.

Wise said the gains were slightly lower for the first-year program participants because the 39 districts included six of the largest urban districts with larger average sizes serving “high need” student populations. “It’s a transition,” he said. “We expect those results to only improve and grow over time.”

Branstad noted that all Iowa school districts have signed up to participate in the third year of the teacher leadership and compensation program, which he called “the most extensive” in the nation. He said he expects lawmakers will approve another $50 million annual installment in fiscal 2017, bringing the standing appropriation to $150 million next fiscal year.

“The Legislature cannot just discontinue the funding for that without changing the law,” the governor said. “I’m not going to support changing the law, so it’s going to be there.”

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