One would have to be a hermit to be oblivious to the back and forth that has taken place between public education advocates and those who have a strong conservative perspective on the use of tax dollars and government finance. I have been a professional educator for nearly 30 years and this disagreement has been going on at least that long, along with the debates about what should be taught in school, who has the authority to determine what is taught in each building, and why Iowa students no longer rank first in the nation on a couple of different standardized assessments. This last point is one that concerns a lot of people. Perhaps it is because the fact that the State of Iowa does not fund schools anywhere close to other states in our country.
In January 2014, Iowa Legislative Services Agency reported that in twelve months Iowa had fallen from 31st to 37th in per pupil spending compared to other states in the country and the national average. A few years back, in the 2011-2012 school year, Iowa spent $1,514 less per student than the national average. When that is extrapolated out for the North Fayette and Valley school districts that would be roughly $1.6 million! What could our district do to support and educate students with that kind of additional money! However, despite the fact that Iowa remains in the 37th position, Iowa has fallen further away from per pupil spending, down $1,657 per pupil last year for roughly a total of $1.8 million for the students in our district! These are facts, and the reality is that money does not educate students; people do. But, for the past ten years or so, funding for Iowa schools has steadily declined, and at the same time student performance on those national tests has dropped as well. I don’t think that there is necessarily a direct correlation, though I do think there is some relationship. What concerns me more is the message that is being spun to tax payers.
The 2014 Legislative session did not do much to help Iowa schools with their finances, though they did fund to a point that schools were not hurt. What troubles me is that the governor and supporters in the legislature claim that they have spent more on Iowa schools than even before, which is ironic considering that our per pupil spending is not increasing much at all, and certainly not at the same rate as in other states. The Branstad administration has governed with an iron fist when it comes to educational spending, and while they have implemented what look to be some positive reforms, the reality is that rather than putting new money toward funding them, they are determined to take money from strong existing programs to pay for them. And, they are sending information out to local districts that they have to raise more funds locally. I find that ironic when the same administration has campaigned in 2014 on the notion that they have restored money to the people of our state. It is interesting that they aren’t spending it on our children, and at the same time claim that they are. The proof is in the numbers.