A top Democrat in the legislature says K-through-12 public schools in Iowa won’t get as much general state aid as lawmakers promised last year. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says legislators expect there will be “some level of underfunding” for schools.
“We also believe, generally speaking, we’re above where they expected us to actually get,” Gronstal says. According to Gronstal, legislatore are likely to extend something in the neighborhood of 350-million more dollars to K-through-12 schools for the academic year that begins this fall. Schools will still have the authority to make up the shortfall by raising local property taxes. Gronstal says Democratic legislators are “strongly discouraging” school administrators and school boards from choosing that option.
“We’re encouraging school districts to do the same that we are doing and that is make cuts, real cuts in state government, so school districts can make real cuts at the local level and find ways to save money to the tune of five percent,” Gronstal says. “They can do that and they can also dip into their reserve funds, just as the state has done.” School advocates argue school budgets are mostly teacher salaries and instructor layoffs mean class sizes will grow and there’ll be bigger reductions in areas like art and music.
Gronstal says legislators are making “tough decisions” in a tight budgeting year. “Everything that state government’s engaged in will see some cuts and we’re trying to do our best to preserve our kids’ opportunities to a better future in education, so we’re going to do the best we can on that front,” Gronstal says. “It isn’t going to be perfect. Everybody knows that and while all Iowans are tightening their belt, we’re tightening our belt and K-through-12 education is going to have to tighten theirs as well.”
In 2009, legislators and the governor promised schools a two percent increase in general state aid for the next academic year. This January, Governor Culver asked legislators to provide schools $100-million extra to help cover the effects of the 10 percent across-the-board cut he ordered in the current year’s state budget in October. Culver called the $100-million a “short term shot in the arm” for K-through-12 schools.