Second briefing held
Washington Schools Superintendent Mike Jorgensen could not contain the frustration he was feeling as he spoke with Washington County legislators Saturday morning about the Iowa House of Representatives not setting the Iowa cost per pupil.
During the second legislative briefing with Rep. Jarad Klein, Rep. Dave Heaton, Sen. Sandra Greiner and Sen. Rich Taylor Saturday, Jorgensen said Iowa code 257.8 requires the state per pupil increases be set within 30 days of the governor’s budget for the coming year. He said that as of Feb. 13, the House is in violation of Iowa code. He said the House had approved to change when the state will set the per pupil cost. He said the entire educational community is registered as being opposed to that.
“What is frustrating is that education has become the political football you guys play with,” Jorgensen said. “Everything is party line when it comes to education.” Jorgensen said that he was also speaking for Highland superintendent Chris Armstrong and Mid-Prairie and Keota superintendent Mark Schneider. He said that the House wasn’t going to address what was passed in the Senate and the Senate wasn’t going to address what was passed in the House. The end result, he said, was that the state wasn’t going to approve state supplemental aid.
He continued that next spring the Democrat-controlled Senate was going to set 6 percent growth and the Republican-controlled house was going set 2 percent growth, like this year.
“Sometime at 4 a.m. in May, you are going to come up with 4 percent,” Jorgensen said. “We all know that is what is going to happen, because that is what has happened in the past. Meanwhile, while you are not following the law, I am going to be required to set a budget in April without knowing what that percentage is going to be. I am also going to have to negotiate contracts without knowing what that percentage is going to be. That is why that law is in place.”
Jorgensen said that the House has had no problem approving commercial property tax cuts. He also said that Iowa was 37th in the country in terms of student funding and $1,514 below the average of the 50 states. He said that that was not from the top, but from being at the 50 percent mark.
Klein said that the 37th statistic is coming from the National Education Association and the teachers’ union. He said the U.S. Department of Education puts Iowa at 28th in the country. He also said the Iowa cost of living is between 26th and 29th in the country.
Klein also said that right after being elected, superintendents told him they had wanted budget certainty. He said there is a history of the legislation promising a certain amount and not following through.
“Everything we are talking about in the school budgets is growth,” Klein said. “This needs to be put into perspective because a 2 percent allowable growth in the school budgets is a total of $50.8 million. Four percent is $123.6 million more that you would get than you currently are getting. The entire Department of Agriculture, Land Stewardship and Department of Natural Resources budgets combined at $40.8 million.”
He also said there was no discussion of cutting education spending.
Greiner asked a farmer who attended the briefing about the cost of corn between Saturday and 18 months ago. Corn was about 35 percent lower, but input costs haven’t gone down.
“When that happens income tax revenue tanks,” she said. “We are walking on pretty thin ice to make long-term promises.”
She spoke of a time she had voted against an increase she didn’t think was sustainable, which the Legislature approved. The Legislature then had to go back into session to make cuts as a result.
Taylor said he agreed the Legislature had to set the growth.
“We have to set it,” he said. “If it is zero, you have to know what it is going to be. The Senate wants it to be 6 percent. I think the House should give us a number. Not a nothing, but a number.”
Heaton said both Democrats and Republicans were working to provide the best education in the best way they could. He said that he supported as much allowable growth as could be afforded. He also said the state needs to be certain what can be appropriated.
During the remainder of the briefing, the 20 people who attended asked questions about many other topics, including the state’s mental health reform, and a bill Klein had introduced regarding the use of drones in Iowa. Greiner said that she wanted to add an amendment allowing people to shoot drones down when it got to the Senate, but was afraid it would jeopardize the bill.