I have written, tweeted, Facebook-ed, and talked quite a bit about education in Iowa over the past few weeks. Our governor has started an uproar over school start dates and state supplemental aid, the magical formula for funding our schools. We have still not arrived at a solution, and the timeline is getting tighter. I wanted to write a bit more in the hopes of maybe easing my frustration with it all.
School Start Date - August 23 After much debate in the Iowa House and Senate (likely to further stall talks on ed funding) a bill finally passed both houses and made its way to our governor's desk setting the new earliest possible start date as August 23. This bill was meant to be a compromise between the current law (no earlier than September 1st) and the current practice (waivers granted for as early as August 7, I think). However, our well-mustached governor has yet to sign this bill. He has indicated that he will sign it, but I will believe it when I see it.
Also unfortunate to this debate is the inclusion in this bill of a prohibition of year-round schooling at the high school level. Currently, there are year-round public schools at the elementary and middle school levels in our state. Typically, they are in areas with students of a low socio-economic status. Research shows that the shorter the gaps during instructional breaks (summer, winter, spring, etc.), the higher all students achieve. This is likely a move by conservatives to continue to appease the businesses in Iowa who pushed for a later start date in order to extend the seasonal help they receive from teenagers. Why do what is best for students when we can do what is best for Iowa businesses?
Educational Funding - Stuck at 1.25% I wrote about Iowa's formula for funding education in a previous post highlight its history and recent changes. I'll briefly review that formula before continuing:
For the typical student in an Iowa school district this past year, the average State Cost Per Pupil (SCPP) was $6,121. The state is responsible for providing 87.5% of SCPP (or $5,356). To provide this funding, the state requires each district to levy a property tax of $5.40 per $1000 of assessed valuation on all taxable property in the district. This money is put into a general fund at the state level and redistributed monthly to all of the school districts in Iowa.
Depending on the school district, this property tax may or may not cover all of the 87.5% of SCPP. Additional funds raised in "wealthier" school districts are used to offset the differences in districts that do not meet the 87.5%.
The remaining 12.5% of SCPP comes from additional property taxes used to fund various other programs the state requires:
- Teacher Salary - A few years ago, Iowa passed legislation raising the minimum salary for new teachers to make Iowa more competitive.
- Professional Development - Teachers are required by law to receive a minimum of 36 hours of professional development each year provided by the school district.
- Early Intervention - Program designed to provide supports to students identified as potential drop-outs.
- Teacher Leadership - A new program started last year to provide incentives for teachers to become instructional leaders in their schools. This is where the Republicans are saying they have already given Iowa schools plenty of funding.
- Area Education Agency (AEA) Teacher Salary - Iowa has 15 area education agencies charged with supporting the districts within their regions. The salaries of the staff who work their are paid for from these additional property taxes.
- AEA Professional Development - This staff also needs professional development so they can continue to support teachers in their regions.
To determine the fiscal year's SCPP, the legislature sets a rate for State Supplemental Aid (SSA). By law, this rate is required to be set 30 days after the governor makes his budget recommendations. Because Iowa sets two year budgets, SSA for the 2015-2016 school year needed to be set by February 14, 2014. It is now April of 2015, well past the second deadline of February 15, 2015. We still do not have an agreement on SSA for the 2015-2016 school year.
State Supplemental Aid increases the State Cost Per Pupil each year. The Governor and Republican legislators have proposed a SSA rate of 1.25%. The Iowa Association of School Boards has asked for 6%. The Democrats have asked 4%, were denied, and asked for 2.625%. This was also voted down by the Republicans. Let's do a little math to see what this means for Iowa students:
|SCPP||SSA Rate||SSA $$||New SCPP||Inflation Difference|
The Iowa Association of School Boards found that the average annual increase in the cost of education in Iowa is around 3%. Iowa schools are behind this rate of inflation due to the legislature setting allowable growth (SSA) for FY2012 at 0% and 2+2% for FY2013 (There was 2% overall increase in SCPP that continued into FY2014. The additional 2% was a one-time spend to attempt to make up for FY2012). We will continue to be behind if our legislators set SSA at anything below 3%.
Let's do some more math to see how this effects school districts in Iowa. Ankeny's certified enrollment for the 2013-2014 school year was 9,901.86. That enrollment is projected to increase by 300-500 students for the next ten years. Let's take Ankeny's projected enrollment for the 2015-2016 school year: 10,644 students. What will that mean in terms of money for Ankeny Schools? Multiplying the new SCPP from above time the projected enrollment can show us:
If, God forbid, the legislature does not pass SSA by April 15th and we end up with 0%, Ankeny stands to lose almost $2 million. This is $4 million short of where the Iowa Association of School Boards recommended we set SSA. In Ankeny, this likely means larger class sizes. In other districts it could mean larger class sizes, cut programs, loss of jobs, etc.
What are other people saying? Connie Boesen of the Des Moines Public Schools Board of Education wrote to the Des Moines Register about the impact on DMPS. My friend Pat Kearney, Director of Bands and Lead Teacher at Johnston High School, wrote open letters to Speaker of the House, Kraig Paulsen, and to Governor Terry Branstad. Mary Jo Hainstock, Superintendent of Vinton-Shellsburg Schools, wrote to The Gazette about the effects in her district. Shawn Cornally, Headmaster of Iowa BIG, wrote a blog post about the effects on him and his school. Tim Terry, an Iowa business owner and former president of the Iowa City Willowwind School, also wrote to The Gazette. The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier wrote an article highlighting the impact to several of the schools in their area. Just do a Google Search for Iowa educational funding. It is scary the impact that this could have. Just look at Kansas.
What can I do? Let your state representatives hear what you think! Even if they are supporting a higher rate of SSA, they need to know what the people of the state of Iowa want. Education appears to no longer be a priority in Iowa. What are YOU doing to help solve that problem?