Each year the funding of our K-12 education system is one of the first large appropriations of the session. We do this so that local school boards and administrators can start their own budgeting process. This year the normally complex funding formula gets outright complicated. Education leaders in the Senate, House and the governor’s office worked their way through the process. They found a way to fund education, protect the taxpayer, and make sure promised funding will be delivered.
The Covid-19 virus, now with Great Britain, South African, and Brazilian variants, caused disruptions in school operations that saved dollars in some areas and cost tax dollars in other areas. From a statewide perspective, Iowa schools had net savings from school closures in the spring. In addition, federal dollars to help schools handle the Covid situation were received. In this environment, schools are asking for a 4% increase in funding.
It has been agreed between the Senate and the House to increase funding in a targeted way.
- Sets FY 22 SSA at 2.4% and the assumed additional $15 million AEA reduction done in standings for an increase of $15.7 million
- Provides an additional $10 per pupil equity to continue working towards district cost per pupil and state cost per pupil equity for an increase of $5.8 million
- Provides the additional money to buy everyone down to the statewide average on transportation which is estimated to be $767,847
- Provides one-time additional funding of $60 per pupil for districts offering qualified instruction in the 2020-2021 school year for an increase of $27.2 million
- Total increase of $49.4 million
One large difficulty is the fluctuation of student attendance this year. Data from the Iowa Department of Education shows that Iowa’s enrollment declined by nearly 6,000 students for the 2020-2021 school year compared to the year prior. This situation can be handled, and due to careful budgeting practices, Iowa is in a very good position to be flexible in dealing with the unpredictable number of students. If they return to the classroom next year, Iowa taxpayers could be on the hook for over $100 million in new spending even if we set SSA at 0%. If this happens, we will almost certainly overspend and we do not want to be caught by surprise.
As you can see, Covid-19 has created an unpredictable and variable environment in school funding. Our best course of action is to continue responsible budgeting so we can react in a strong manner when surprises pop up. Iowa, from Governor Reynolds on down, has handled Covid better on balance than almost every other state. We will come out of this stronger than the states who over-reacted and threw money at the uncertainties of Covid.