An Advocacy Alert from the IASB
In response to recent school funding editorials written by Iowa legislators, IASB has submitted an opinion piece to several newspapers across the state. IASB is continuing to coordinate with other education organizations about the challenges districts face and the possible solutions to those challenges. The IASB believes its member’s voices should be heard so that legislators and citizens know the tough decisions school boards make in order to provide a world-class education for all Iowa students. The op-ed that follows was submitted by the IASB Board of Directors:
April 11, 2016
Letter to the Editor:
Rep. Ken Rizer’s Opinion piece (April 8, 2016) in the Cedar Rapids Gazette outlined the actions taken by legislators to make education a priority in the state budget. On behalf of locally elected school board members, we want to share our thoughts with you on this as well.
First, we believe legislators of both parties understand the value of public education to children, families and our state as a whole. We thank all legislators for decisions that have been made to increase school funding, while they also consider other goals and needs that can improve Iowa’s economy and quality of life. More important, we thank Iowans for your investment in our children’s future. We take our responsibility seriously to make wise use of Iowans’ investment in public education as we put the public’s tax dollars to work in our community schools.
That said, we do believe there are real challenges that must be addressed. Success and improving student achievement does not happen just because education funding is a large portion of the state budget.
Legislators note that, like families and businesses, the legislature must plan its budget and live within means. We agree. The problem is the disconnect in the myriad of laws and mixed messages from the Capitol that keep schools boards from doing the same.
A family or business has considerable flexibility on how to budget its resources. State and federal laws and Department of Education rules restrict and categorize funds that districts receive. This restrictive method creates a complex web of funds that can only be used for certain purposes. We need greater flexibility and less government red tape to maximize our resources. Iowa’s public schools can and will strive toward improved student achievement but as locally elected school board members, we need more authority to make the decisions and to allocate the resources that best suit our districts’ needs.
Wise families and businesses plan well, with multiyear budgets. While Iowa law is designed so that legislative decisions on school aid are made well in advance so that school boards can also plan responsibly, the Legislature has not followed its own law and still didn’t this year. We need legislative decisions made on time, so we can run our school budgets with strongest strategy. The challenges in reaching a timely decision in a political environment cannot be ignored. It’s time to reconsider the process that we use to provide local school boards with their budgets.
When a family or business sets priorities, it funds them for success. Too often the Legislature sets a statewide priority – like early literacy – then fails to fund it adequately. We are at grave risk of penalizing our most struggling third grade students with retention because the support system hasn’t been built. We need our state policymakers to match mission, mandates and money while giving locally elected school boards the power to best accomplish those goals.
A business that makes a strategic investment in human capital – as our state has done in Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation system – does not then greatly restrict the core funding stream that local school boards use to attract, retain and pay our teachers and school employees and invest in our curriculum. To be successful in putting the best and brightest teachers in every classroom, we need greater growth in state school aid.
Families and businesses strive for security and sustainability. Schools need to know whether we will have security and sustainability in our source of funding for school facilities and technology – the state penny sales tax. Without that, boards and districts will be faced with balancing educational needs with infrastructure needs as they were before this funding source was enacted.
Successful families and businesses are built on equity and fairness. For 40 years, inequities in school funding have been unfair to Iowa students. Schools need the Legislature to find the will to finally address inequities such as transportation costs and the gap in district cost per pupil. Every child in Iowa, regardless of where they live, deserves an equal education. These inequities make it difficult to accomplish this goal.
Iowa legislators are good people, dedicated to public service. We believe legislators in both parties are striving to make education a priority in the state budget, although we have concerns that partisan politics are preventing progress. The disconnect in state funding policy and what we need in local schools in our community is real.
We are frustrated – the voices of school board members have not been heard. We need bold legislators who will step forward and work across the aisle with statesmanship, not partisanship, to solve these problems. Iowa families and businesses are depending on that.
On behalf of the Iowa Association of School Boards,
Amy Jurrens, President, George
Joan Corbin, President-elect, Pella
Jeff Anderson, Past President, Boone
Roger Shaffer, Treasurer, Sumner
If you have any additional questions please contact IASB Government Relations Director Phil Jeneary at firstname.lastname@example.org or IASB Lobbying Consultant Emily Piper at Emily@ialobbyresources.com.