Education Funding

Angel Jepsen

Due to declining enrollment, Wednesday is the final day of classes in the 56-year history of the Charter Oak-Ute High School. In September, most COU 9th through 12th graders will be attending classes in the neighboring district of Maple Valley-Anthon Oto. 

The change is not a consolidation, but rather a sharing agreement between the two far western Iowa districts.

Flickr / wabisabi2015

Every school day at 7:30 am, fifth-grader Ava Perrett catches the first of two bright yellow buses that drive her to the Greene County Intermediate School in Grand Junction.

Due to a 2014 consolidation, the Greene County Community School District is the state’s eighth largest in geographic size. It spans 388 square miles. So it’s a good thing Ava says she usually doesn’t mind riding the bus.

“But sometimes it takes a while,” she says. “When we’re switching buses it gets really cold out when we’re waiting for the buses.”

Jens Olaf-Walter/flickr

A controversial program to  require struggling 3rd graders to get summer reading instruction in order to be promoted to 4th grade is falling victim to  budget cuts at the statehouse.  

As part of a massive education funding bill, a GOP-led committee has eliminated the program, after failing again to find the money to help local schools pay for the summer classes.  

Critics say without a state appropriation, the program amounts to an unfunded mandate for local schools.

Aaron Hawkins / Flickr

The average student graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2016 graduated with more than $37,000 in student loan debt, and according to the personal finance website, Make Lemonade, there are more than 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the United States.

John Pemble/IPR

An overflow crowd of advocates for K-12 schools came to the statehouse today, trying to stop a bill they say would severely underfund schools next year.  

Advocates say the crowd would have been larger if the hearing had been scheduled in the evening when most public hearings at the capitol take place.     

Minority Democrats cried foul when Republicans scheduled the hearing for 11 a.m.. 

Tammy Wawro with the Iowa State Education Association spoke angrily for those who could not attend.  

Bryan McDonald/flickr

Democrats in the Iowa Senate delayed action for six hours yesterday on a bill setting basic state school aid for next year, trying to stop what they say will severely underfund K-12 education.

Republicans in the House and Senate propose just over one-percent increase for schools.  

School officials have said they need at least four percent to avoid larger class sizes or layoffs.

The bill is on the fast track, clearing committees in both chambers yesterday, and now headed for votes in the House and Senate as early as this week.  

John Pemble/IPR

A program to benefit fine arts instruction in Iowa classrooms is on the chopping block, as the Iowa legislature considers Governor Branstad’s education budget for next year.  

The governor recommends eliminating a $25,000 appropriation for a mentoring program for fine arts teachers.  

Through the Iowa Alliance for Arts Education, teachers raised money from the private sector and were expecting a matching grant from  the state.

John Pemble / IPR

State lawmakers opened the 2017 legislative session this morning as Republicans took control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 20 years. As lawmakers were sworn in and official business began, River to River Host Ben Kieffer and Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell sat down with legislative leaders from both parties to discuss priorities.

Sarah Boden/IPR

Republicans in the Iowa House say one of their top priorities in the next legislative session is supplemental state aid for Iowa school districts. That’s according to Speaker Linda Upmeyer, a Republican from Clear Lake, who met with reporters after her caucus discussed legislative priorities on Thursday.

Upmeyer says ideally, the amount of money Iowa schools will receive from the state will be set within the first 30 days of the 2017 legislative session.

Joyce Russell/IPR

It will be another year before Iowa schools will be required to offer mandatory summer school for third graders not reading at grade level, under a preliminary education budget unveiled at the capitol today.

Lawmakers of both parties say there’s not enough money to start the program as scheduled in 2017.   

Under the proposed budget, schools will now have until 2018 to offer summer help to struggling third graders and to require children to repeat the grade if they don’t attend.      

Alan Levine/flickr

A bill to allow vouchers for some Iowa private school students advanced at the capitol this week.  

The bill faces an uncertain future, but it created a firestorm of protest from advocates for the state’s public schools.  

Private schools are pushing hard for something they call Education Savings Accounts.   The bill would give some low-income families close to six thousand dollars in state funds per child to help defray tuition.   

Jo Naylor

Governor Branstad had harsh words today for Iowa’s public schools who want a penny sales tax extended to benefit school infrastructure projects.

The one-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2029.   Schools use the money to back up bonding for everything from building repairs to technology upgrades.  

The governor wants to extend the tax, but he wants some of the revenue diverted to water quality.

At his weekly news conference, Branstad lashed out against schools for opposing his plan.  

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad’s proposal to pay for millions of dollars in water quality improvements now has some competition in the Iowa House and it’s coming from the governor’s fellow Republicans. 

Branstad wants to extend a penny sales tax for schools that is set to expire. 

The tax currently goes into a special fund for school infrastructure.  

Under Branstad’s plan, some of the growth in the fund would be used to clean up Iowa’s waterways.  

House Education Committee Chair, Republican Ron Jorgensen, says he needs more information on the governor’s proposal.

John Pemble/IPR

At the statehouse this week, Democrats and Republicans will try to reach accord on K-12 school funding for the school year that starts in the fall.  

The legislature is already late in approving the aid, which by law should have been passed in the last legislation session.

Once again this year, Democrats seek a larger increase for schools than Republicans.      

Democratic Senator Majority Leader Mike Gronstal recalls last year the two parties fought for weeks on a bipartisan compromise, only to have it vetoed by the governor.

John Pemble/IPR

Governor Branstad Tuesday delivered his Condition of the State Address to a joint session of the Iowa House and Senate.   He also unveiled his more than seven-billion dollar state budget for next year. 

His initiatives are getting a cautious response from lawmakers. 

John Pemble/IPR file photo

Gov. Terry Branstad says the budget he’ll present tomorrow along with the annual Condition of the State Address is “very tight," but he adds lawmakers shouldn’t be caught off-guard by want he’s proposing this legislative session. 

"There's no surprise," says Branstad. "I think I've done a pretty good job of visiting with legislators about the tough decisions we have to make." 

Iowa Public Radio / Clay Masters

Iowa's governor wants to kill two birds with one stone.

Gov. Terry Branstad says by extending a sales tax increase enacted in 2008* to 2049, schools will get an additional $10 million annually for things like technology and infrastructure projects. He projects that the state will also raise nearly $4.7 billion in this period to address soil and water conservation issues related to agriculture.

Courtesy of the Des Moines Register

Iowa has shuttered more than 4300 school districts since 1950 as a result of demographic changes in rural Iowa. What that means for residents and students in rural Iowa is highlighted in a new documentary “Lost Schools.”

Iowa Public Radio / Sarah Boden

Gov. Terry Branstad is now the owner of 1,000 rubber ducks.

The liberal advocacy group Progress Iowa gave Branstad the bath toys to protest his vetoing of one-time education funding and the closing of two mental health institutions. At the same time, Branstad has worked with private donors to build a reflecting pool at Terrace Hill, the governor’s official residence.

Flickr / David Wilson

Enrollment in Denison community schools will likely drop this year, which means a potential loss of tens of thousands of dollars in state funding. 

On Friday, Crawford County’s second largest employer announced layoffs of 400 workers. Tyson Foods says it will "permanently cease" beef production at its Denison plant due to a "continued lack of available cattle." 

The controversy flaring over state funding for Iowa’s K-through-12 public schools is focusing on Governor Terry Branstad’s veto of legislation that would have given schools an extra, one-time, $55-million appropriation during this fiscal year.

Forest City school superintendent, Darwin Lehmann, is feeling the fiscal squeeze.  He says his district is spending more than the state is increasing the district’s state aid.

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Branstad Thursday vetoed millions of dollars in state spending the legislature approved last month, saying some of the appropriations are unsustainable. 

He trimmed back the more than seven billion dollar state budget for the fiscal year that started this week. 

The vetoes cut education spending for K-12 schools, community colleges, and the Regents Universities.  

Education advocates call the K-12 cuts shameful.   Regents President Bruce Rastetter says they’ll begin considering what tuition levels should be next spring. 

woodleywonderworks / Flickr

According to the National Institute for Early Education, Iowa ranks 32nd in the nation for state spending on preschool.

Mark Shriver, President of the Save the Children Action Network, is working to try to change that. “Ninety percent of brain growth happens before the age of 5, but public investment is flat until that age. We spend billions of dollars trying to remediate. These kids are not entering kindergarten ready to learn,” he says.

John Pemble/IPR

A tentative agreement on basic state aid for K-12 schools has been reached at the statehouse.

 A disagreement between the House and Senate has stood in the way of adjournment of the 2015 session. 

An aide says Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal have reached a tentative deal, which will now be presented to rank and file legislators.     

Debt-Free College

Apr 22, 2015

University of Northern Iowa students, faculty and community members came together Wednesday to call on 2016 presidential candidates to support a national goal of debt-free education at institutions of higher learning. Americans for Democratic Action's Iowa organizer, Chris Schwartz says "we're here today to send a message to the presidential candidates whether it's Hilary Clinton or Ted Cruz that you need to come out and support the concept of debt-free college education if you want the support of students and the ADA in this caucus cycle." 

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

The Iowa Senate is unlikely to take up the issue of collective bargaining, so why did the House debate it until 10 PM last Tuesday?

State Rep. Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, felt that the bill was a distraction from the bigger issue of school funding.

"They are waiting to know what their funds will be for this upcoming school year and we felt like this entire bill was a distraction and that's why we totally opposed it," Steckman says.

But State Rep. Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, says that these processes sometimes take years. 

John Pemble / IPR

  Debates over how much of a raise to give to the state's schools usually dominates early discussions at the capitol. Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell tells IPR's Clay Masters this year the debate is on time. The two discuss other education topics and what's ahead this week.