Zag, But No Zig, for School Funding

There is a misleading number on the loose as crunch time looms for school funding legislation.

Backers of the zero allowable growth [ZAG] bill that passed the Iowa House assert that even in that scenario the state’s schools will receive $286 million more than they did last year. That’s because the legislature will finally make good on funding shortfalls that resulted from consecutive across-the-board budget cuts in 2009 and 2010; reneges at the statehouse that were somewhat offset by one-time federal stimulus dollars which came to the rescue of school budgets nationwide. It was only those dollars that averted massive and catastrophic layoffs and program cutbacks. So it’s like getting your allowance from one parent instead of the other; not getting allowance from them both. And if the allowance stays the same while costs like pensions and salaries and goods and services continually rise, you’re effectively getting less than before.

Isn’t it counter-intuitive to expect kids to flourish in a fiscal environment that doesn’t allow for growth?

ZAG proponents like to point out that the biggest chunk of the state budget is education (50% for K-12, 60% if the Regents institutions are included) as proof that education is the state’s top priority. But they don’t mention that Human Services is #2. The fastest growing subgroup of Iowa’s population is the number of children who live in poverty. The more kids we properly educate the fewer that will have to receive social services as adults. But if their schools are as impoverished as the homes they come from we are perpetuating a cycle that is truly vicious.

Until we have a serious, long-term commitment to making Iowa first in the nation in education, and one that outlasts the tenure of whomever happens to be the sitting governor, political agendas will be the tail wagging the educational dog.

The state legislature is sitting on cash reserves of nearly a billion dollars and taking in revenues to the tune of a 6% increase in FY 2011 versus FY 2010. Business is good in Iowa by many measures without putting corporate tax cuts where adequate funding for Iowa schools oughta be. So ask your legislators the $286 million question: shouldn’t there be more where that belatedly came from?

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