When I decided to run for the state Senate, I did so because I was disappointed with our government. When I looked around the political world, I noticed three glaring deficits: a budget deficit, a leadership deficit and a trust deficit.
Over my three years in the Senate, I have tried to work very hard to erase all three of these deficits. For the most part, I think we have been successful at the state level. This is extremely important to me.
This week in the Senate, we voted on the supplemental school aid increase for the FY 2016 school year. This is the annual increase in dollars allowed per student. The Legislature sets this increase, which allows school districts to plan for the upcoming year.
Education is extremely important to Iowa and we have a long tradition of top notch education. As a state, we will spend $2.7 billion on K-12 education this year, which is about 40 percent of the state budget. If you add in preschool and post high school education, we spend over 55 percent of our state’s resources on education.
Senate Democrats brought forth a proposal for a 6 percent this year. This would be an increase of $222.5 million over the previous year, for a total of $3.1 billion in school aid.
When deciding how to vote, I looked at the history of allowable growth and the ability of the state to follow through on its funding promise.
From 2002-2013, the Legislature passed an increase of between 0 percent and 4 percent. During this time period, there were six years in which the Legislature promised a certain increase and failed to fulfill its promise. In 2002, the Legislature passed a 4 percent allowable growth and failed to fund $77.5 million. In 2003, the Legislature failed to fund $13.5 million of the 4 percent allowable growth. In 2004, the Legislature failed to fund $40.9 million of the 2 percent allowable growth. In 2009, the shortfall was $33.3 million on a 4% allowable growth. In 2010, the legislature set the allowable growth at 4 percent, but failed to fund $269.7 million due to Governor Culver’s 10 percent across-the-board cut. In 2011, there was a $156 million shortfall on a 2 percent allowable growth.
Overall, the Legislature has failed to keep its promise six times since 2002, resulting in a shortfall of around $600 million. This happened both under Republican control and Democrat control. When the Legislature fails to keep its promise, there are only two options for the local school boards: make severe budget cuts in the middle of the year, or raise property taxes to pay for the difference.
I did not vote for the 6 percent increase in the Senate. While the intentions are good, the state of Iowa cannot fulfill this promise. With a 6 percent increase to school aid, the state of Iowa would have a projected deficit of $373.8 million in fiscal year 2016.
It is extremely important to me to eliminate the budget deficit, the leadership deficit and the trust deficit in Iowa. By voting for 6 percent allowable growth, we would create a budget deficit, and could not pay for the amount promised, breaking the trust of school boards, school employees, students and parents. While the intentions are good, to overpromise and under deliver is not leadership. As a wise person once said, “The smallest deeds done are better than the greatest deeds planned.”
I am hopeful we can establish a sustainable allowable growth number as soon as possible so our schools and students can count on us to fulfill our promise in making education a priority in Iowa.