How starving our state’s education system is hurting us all

If you are not directly involved with budgeting for one of Iowa’s public schools or Area Education Agencies (AEAs), you might not fully grasp the crisis that our education system is really in. You might glance at the headlines about the state’s inability to come to consensus on the amount of funding education should receive and wonder how bad the situation could really be.

But consider these facts:

  • Iowa now ranks 28th in per student funding in the country and is $1,155 below the national average.
  • 75% of Iowa schools raised class sizes this year due to losses in funding.
  • In addition to raising class size, school leaders have said that continued underfunding would force them to delay purchases for books or classroom materials (77%); leave positions unfilled (71%); delay new technology (56%); and cut back literacy programs (43%).
  • 41% of Iowa students now live in poverty–putting even greater pressure on schools and AEAs to deliver programming and services to help them reach their potential.

If these facts aren’t sobering enough, consider that most school leaders agree that a funding increase of 4% is needed to simply maintain a basic level of education programming. The current percentage being suggested by many Iowa legislators hovers closer to 2%, with some even suggesting 0%. This decision needs to be made in the first 30 days of the legislative session (February) for school leaders to build their budgets which are due by April 15. And yet a lack of agreement by state lawmakers prolongs the decision far past the state’s own self-imposed deadline each year. This puts schools in an increasingly difficult position as the amount of funding for the coming year is never clear. Imagine running your own household budget under the same conditions? What if your employer couldn’t give you a straight answer about your paycheck while the bills kept rolling in?

State funding of Iowa’s public schools and AEAs should be a top priority to ensure the continued economic growth of our state. Regardless of your personal interest in education, failing to adequately fund our schools and AEAs means that eventually we all suffer. Our state needs a strong, educated workforce to carry the next generation forward. As it is, nearly an entire decade of Iowa’s school-aged children have been penalized by the lack of adequate funding for their schools–a fact that can’t be undone no matter what funding levels may be set at in the future. Those of us in education who live these conditions each day just shake our heads in disbelief and wonder what parents would think if they really knew.

The voices of educators advocating for our state’s children don’t seem to be loud enough to be heard at the state capitol. Parents, grandparents and other community stakeholders must now speak on their behalf. Without your voice, Iowa’s education system will continue to quietly slip further and further behind.

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sammillerSam Miller is the Chief Administrator of Area Education Agency 267 based in Cedar Falls. He can be reached at Area Education Agency 267 serves over 65,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles.

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