Iowa's public schools may receive more state funding in the near future, as the state Senate has unanimously approved a 4 percent, $100 million increase in educational funds, expected to take effect in the 2006-2007 school year.
Ensuring that education is the top priority of the legislative session, the bill, passed on January 19, will be acted upon within 30 days of the Governor submitting his budget to the assembly. This year, legislators wasted no time, getting a head start on school funding before Governor Vilsack presented his budget for the year. In 2004, the Legislature turned down a request for a public hearing on school budget problems caused by a missed deadline.
The 4 percent increase would bring state funding to approximately $197 per enrolled student, however not every school in the state will receive an increase in aid. A steady or increasing enrollment is a crucial factor in determining aid, and schools with declining enrollment may in fact receive less money on a per-pupil basis.
Local school officials believe that the amount of aid to be received in upcoming school years is yet to be determined due to the unpredictability of enrollment. Bill Kruse, superintendent of Storm Lake Community Schools, reported that four out of the past five years the school district has seen an increase in student enrollment, with a current enrollment of 1,954 students.
"If our district sees an increase in enrollment in the future, then the 4 percent increase in funding is sufficient, but the truth is a decline in enrollment means the schools won't receive 4 percent," Kruse stated.
Sioux Central superintendent Bonnie Meier notes a decrease in enrollment in her district. "We are still guaranteed aid, but we will have less than before. The state funding we receive may not be enough, but we have ways of seeking alternative funding and grants that keep our budget healthy."
The district's whole grade sharing partnerships with Albert City-Truesdale and South Clay have been good for the school and gives students more academic opportunities. The school has an enrollment of 442 students within the district, but serves approximately 600 students when including the preschool, students from other districts, and special education students also enrolled in the district.
Newell Fonda Superintendent Ron Day said that the district, which currently serves 504 students, saw an increase in enrollment for the 2004-2005 school year. However, receiving the 4 percent increase for the 2006-2007 school year is still unpredictable, with the chance that the district may see a decline in enrollment. "Funding will go up next year, but if enrollment decreases, you go backward," Day said.
While funding for most programs within the school district were adequate, Day would like to see more teacher quality dollars included in state aid. "You can always use more money in the schools," he commented.
Many teachers, school boards and school administrators have been lobbying to the state legislators to increase state aid by 6 percent, with the additional 2 percent being allowed for the teacher quality program. While this plan, known as the "four-plus-two plan," would still not meet all of the budget needs for Iowa's public schools, it is a start in the right direction, area superintendents suggest. The two percent was not included in the Senate's bill, but is expected to be a part of future discussion at the statehouse. The current 4 percent plan would increase state aid to over $2 billion.