Legislators Begin Fight Over Education Funding … Again

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  A budget battle is brewing in the statehouse and lawmakers are ready for a fight.

“If we don’t invest in our kids now we’ll pay for it later” said Democratic Representative Sharon Steckman at a democratic press conference on Thursday.

At the press conference, Iowa democrats revealed the results of a survey of school superintendents.  Almost 70% say they need to see a 4% increase in school funding over last year.

“They’re the ones educating our students, they’re the ones on the ground floor, the superintendents and the teachers are the ones working with our kids. We need to listen to them, they know what’s happening” said Steckman.

According to the annual survey, if they were to only receive the 2% increase recommended by Governor Brandstad, 71% of superintendents say they would need to raise class sizes, 61% say they would lay off teachers, and 65% said they would need to delay purchasing up-to-date classroom resources.

Democrats say there are other concerns as well.

“You’ll see increased consolidation, and it’s absolutely true, when a town loses a school, the town loses its identity. I mean which of us would move to a community that didn’t have a school?” asked Democratic Senator Herman Quirmbach.

House republicans say this survey isn't anything new, and the money is there.

“That’s what superintendents do, worry about [the] budget process; but when I talk to them I remind them that in the past six years since we’ve been in control education has gotten a total of 640 million dollars” said Republican Representative Walt Rogers.

Rogers is the chair of the house education committee and says there are more issues at play than just funding.

“Their overall costs are going up, and their costs are going up faster than the present economy here in Iowa is able to sustain. That’s a systematic problem that I think needs to be addressed, maybe with some of the issues that we’re looking at, collective bargaining…they’ve got to look at the overall issue of 'why are their costs going up quicker than or revenue is able to sustain?', and that’s what the real issue is” said Rogers.

Democrats say the state has the money; it’s where they spend it that’s the issue.

“It’s a matter of priorities, OK, we have over seven billion dollars of revenue to spend, it’s a matter of setting our priorities” said Quirmbach.

Democrats say they are worried that education overall is taking a backseat, especially with the governor proposing over 30 million in cuts to higher public education.

“Here’s the bottom line, education is what drives Iowa’s economy. Education is the foundation of our economy, it’s the foundation of our future, we have to have a strong education system. It is Iowa’s competitive advantage” said Democratic Senator Rob Hogg.

Republicans maintain they’ve increased school funding every year for the past six years.

Democrats argue that while that is technically true, it has not increased with inflation taken into account.

The superintendent survey was based off of the answers from 140 school superintendents.

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