Education reviews of the Republicans’ mismanagement of the Iowa state budget has focused on the inadequate funding of K-12 schools. They actually brag about increasing K-12 funding by 1.1% or $40 million even though most independent analysis suggest 4-6% is needed to keep pace.
In addition, they cut state funding of Iowa’s public universities for both 2017 and 2018 significantly below the 2016 levels. Republican legislators totally ignored the public universities request for a 2% increase and cut their funding. That inadequate funding of our Iowa public universities has resulted in a 5% tuition increase for Iowa college students. Republicans have decided to balance the budget on the backs of Iowa students with cuts and tuition increases. They cut the university budgets at a greater percentage than any other state agency. That demonstrates their callous disregard for the value of providing Iowa students with an affordable college education.
Republicans claim these huge budget cuts are necessary because of falling state revenues. One might assume that Iowa state tax revenues must be lower than 2016 based on that claim. That is simply not the case. Total state revenue through April 2017 is 3.2% higher than it was through April 2016. Furthermore, the Iowa Department of Management is estimating Iowa will end the fiscal year on June 30 with 2.7% increase over 2016. A March 2017 estimate for 2018 predicts an increase in revenues of 3.6%.
While revenues are growing slower than previous years, they are growing. Why is funding for K-12 schools at just 1.1% and Iowa Public Universities are getting cuts for 2017 and 2018 if revenues are increasing?
The answer is simple. Iowa Republican legislators have decided that awarding out of state corporations with big tax credits and subsidies are more important than funding education. Taxes paid by Iowans continue to increase state revenues, but Republicans give that extra revenue to out of state corporations rather than Iowa students.
Over 70% of graduates are leaving college with student debt. Iowa students are currently graduating with an average of $29,000 in college debt. That’s slightly higher than the national average. It’s estimated that a graduate with that much debt will pay an additional $17,000 in interest over the life of the loans. Increasing tuition by another 5% is madness. Iowa should be looking at ways to decrease college costs by lowering tuition. Iowans should be committed to lowering student debt rather than growing it.
This massive college debt has a much larger effect on the economy in general. According to a survey by TD Ameritrade, 26% of millennials are planning on moving back in with their parents to save money and pay off student debt. They’re postponing all the economy-stimulating activities that new graduates normally would start immediately after college. They’re putting off buying homes and cars, getting married, saving for retirement and having children. 67% of these millennials still think a college degree is worth it, while 23% say they will never get their money’s worth for the debt.
The Iowa Republicans weren’t satisfied with punishing students with greater student debt. They simultaneously rolled back minimum wage increases in four Iowa counties. They slammed Iowa students from both directions. They increased college tuition while preventing students from making higher wages to pay off that debt.
Increasing college tuition, underfunding education and refusing to increase wages will likely be an election issue in 2018. Democrats must remind voters that Republicans mismanagement of the budget is creating greater hardships for Iowa students and their families at all levels.
by Rick Smith