The first week of the Iowa Legislature’s 2020 session is complete. Committees are formed, bills are being assigned to subcommittees, and the machine of government is beginning to roll. The Legislature received our annual speeches reporting on the Condition of the State, Judiciary, and National Guard.
The first big decision to be made in January is the amount of additional funding for K-12 education. Very rarely does K-12 go backwards or stay at a status quo level of funding. It almost always goes up each year to cover raises, inflation, and additional costs in education. Not surprisingly, when this additional funding is set, those who receive it argue that the additional funds need to be higher. This usually leads to charges that Republican majorities are “underfunding education”. This is a false and simply partisan statement. Let’s look at history.
After being elected to the Legislature in 2008, I served in the House during a time when Democrat majorities held the Senate, House and Democrat Chet Culver was the governor. The budgets I voted against in the years of total Democrat control increased spending in all areas, and didn’t prioritize or protect K-12. In fact, the tragic October 2009 across-the-board cut by Governor Culver to keep the budget solvent stripped $238 million from K-12 all by itself. I’ve included details in the table below. By the time Republicans won the majority in the House, our local schools had been promised over $390 million but had been truly underfunded by $459 million. K-12 went backwards in funding.
Compare that to the recent Republican trifecta elected in 2016. The three budgets approved since that election have included additional funding for local schools in the amount of $263 million. And every penny was delivered. I’m proud Iowa now has a strong budgeting system that leaves more money in the bank than law requires. This gives stability to local school boards when they set their budget. This prevents local schools from having to lay off teachers mid-year as happened in the earlier years I described.
Add to this record of funding success the collective bargaining changes introduced in 2017 that put school boards back in charge of their budgets and let superintendents reward good teachers and offer bonuses to attract special skills needed locally. This also added stability going into the future, especially our small schools here in West Central Iowa.
“Fully funding education” is much more than scoring political points in January, only to hurt local schools in October. I define fully funding education as delivering every penny promised. Republicans have done this and kept the faith with our smaller, rural schools who are hurt the worst by bait and switch budgeting tactics. As we move into the school budgeting debate, I think history shows that the Republican trifecta is education’s best friend.