Want Better Education Funding? Elect More Democrats To The Iowa Legislature

By Pat Rynard

April 4, 2016

Another year, another unacceptably low increase in public schools funding in Iowa.

With the end of this year’s legislative session in sight, education advocates and Democrats are closing out the year in frustration, seeing only a 2.25% increase in education funding for the 2016-2017 academic year. Disappointing schools and children has become a bit of a guarantee from the Iowa Legislature and Governor Terry Branstad in recent years, so this year’s “compromise” came as little surprise.

It’s at least an improvement over the extremely paltry 1.25% enacted last year after negotiations and standoffs over the fund drug the session into the summer, only to see the additional one-time money that pushed it up to 2.6% get cut down by Branstad’s veto. But it’s still nothing near the 4% that Senate Democrats passed through the Senate, nor the 6% that many would like to see happen.

Things still could have gone better this year. Branstad suggested a 2.45% increase, so it’s disappointing to see Democrats get forced to accept something even lower than that from House Republicans. As DesMoinesDem laid out, much of that was due to yet another round of inept maneuvering and negotiating strategies from Democrats. Democrats agreed to other compromises on tax coupling before a new state revenue report and without linking it to the education negotiations.

But the bigger problem is simply that Republicans in the Legislature do not care about public school funding. They find excuses all day long to pass some sort of new tax break for businesses that don’t need it, but can never discover the same sort of necessity for Iowa’s school children.

The handful of Republican lawmakers that were seen as moderates or at least honest negotiators on education funding are retiring, likely in frustration. Ron Jorgensen, Quentin Stanerson, Brian Moore and Josh Byrnes are all calling it quits after Branstad’s veto fallout last year. All have backgrounds in education fields.

Is it ever going to change? Probably not, at least not as long as Republicans control one branch of the Legislature. And considering 28% of Republican lawmakers homeschool their children, their minds aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

Democrats and education advocates have already tried everything. Superintendents have been particularly vocal the last two years over their frustration with the impasse. The Davenport school district has repeatedly made headlines from their effort to use unauthorized money in their reserves to pay for school operations.

Nothing’s worked. They’ve tried negotiating. They’ve tried calling and pressuring Republican lawmakers. They’ve tried breaking funding laws.

There’s only one thing left: voting them out at the ballot box.

For parents who are worried that their children will receive a substandard education, or any Iowan dismayed that their state no longer leads the country in quality of education, the solution is now pretty simple: vote for the Democrat running for the State House or State Senate. After years and years of stalemate and stagnation on education funding caused by Republicans, there’s just no other way that’s going to change anything.

Even Republican voters who care about public schools need to seriously reconsider who they’re voting for locally this year. Voting with your ideology on candidates for statewide or national office is understandable, but it’s becoming less so for the Statehouse if this is your biggest issue. The Iowa Legislature has no bigger impact on any other topic than public education; if your kid is in school or you care deeply about it, it may be time to consider voting for the Democrat in the race.

With the retirements of many key swing district Republicans – again, mostly caused by the education funding fallout – Democrats have a real chance of winning back the House. If they do so, there’s an opportunity next year for House and Senate Democrats to work together to send a funding bill to Branstad’s desk worthy of the kids, parents and teachers in this state. It would still be tough going with Branstad, but at least Iowa’s schools would start off in the negotiating process in a much better place.

Republican legislators have made their choices in the education funding battles. Now it’s time for the voters to make theirs.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 4/4/16

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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