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Things are moving along nicely at the Statehouse. On February 7th, the House passed a three percent increase to state spending in our K-12 schools. We are already being criticized by some that we haven’t contributed enough funding to keep our schools competitive. In fact, the narrative is that Republicans are destroying education in the State.

The opposition uses things such as Iowa used to be the number one state in the nation in reading scores.

The narrative has been that because House Republicans are underfunding education, that our education system is declining, and to fix the system, we need to fund more money. This assertion is laughable when you look at the amount of money that the State Legislature has moved into our public education system in the last 10 years and when you look at the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results through the years. NAEP is considered by many to be the golden standard when evaluating how an education system is working in a state.

From 2011 to 2020, inflation has gone up an average of 1.57 percent per year for a cumulative inflation rate of 15.06%. While at the same time, the Republican majority in the House pushed for significant increases in funding for K – 12 education. The House, and now the Senate, has provided 1 billion new dollars to the education budget during the same period for a growth of right around 23 percent growth. The legislature has been funding K – 12 education at more than the rate of inflation for the Midwest, and that education budget makes up 44% of the entire state budget.

Public schools in Iowa are being funded accordingly, despite what some are saying. 1 billion dollars of new funding is 1 billion dollars of additional funding.

Let’s look at performance and how in Iowa, children are performing before this growth of expenses and how it is performing today. As mentioned above, we can use the NAEP tests as they are taken across the country. In 1992 Iowa was ranked 5th in the Nation in 4th-grade reading.

All the data I am stating has been taken from the National Center for Education Statistics, just so some will not say I am making this up.

From 1992 until 2009, Iowa fell from 5th in the nation to 26th in the nation in 4th-grade reading scores. That is a drop in the rankings of 21 places. The drop in rankings started in 2002, when we had a Democrat Governor and a Republican-controlled House and Senate. In 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 we had a Democrat trifecta where quite a bit of money was spent in education. So much, in fact, that the legislature had to do a 10% across-the-board cut across the state government, in order to keep the lights on. In 2009, during a Democrat trifecta of our state government, Iowa fell to 26th in the nation in 4th-grade reading scores according to NAEP.

We are currently ranked 16th in the Nation in 4th-grade reading scores, according to NAEP.

So, in the time of the greatest drop in rankings, Iowa was controlled by a trifecta of Democrats, and now, during a time of control by Republicans, our 4th-grade reading scores are on the rebound.

I am a scientist and I trust data, but I always question that data. President Reagan said it well, “Trust, but verify.”  When someone throws out comments that Republicans are underfunding education or Republicans are stealing money from education, it is easy to have an emotional response and cry, “how dare they!” However, when we look at the data, we find that money isn’t the answer.

We find that when money is thought to be the answer, and the only answer, our system declines. Iowa Republicans, who are in charge of the Governor’s office, the House, and the Senate, have taken a reasoned approach to education, providing increases in funding that meet or exceed inflation as well as using reasoned policy approaches to improve education. Our goal is to become number 1 in the country once again. Iowans want that and deserve it.

The division and gnashing of teeth that we are hearing are those who don’t want to change. They are set in their ways, and they also want to keep the power they have grown so used to owning. If we listened to those people 70 years ago, we would still be in single-room school houses. We need to change, and we need to understand improvements do not always need to have money thrown at them in order for them to be good improvements.

Author: John Wills


  1. So glad to finally hear wills say throwing more money at education will NOT solve the issues. As a former teacher, I know money is not the issue.


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