Miller, Kraayenbrink talk school funding

Lawmakers visit Fort Dodge schools

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Collin Granahan, 16, a sophomore at Fort Dodge Senior High, left, shares a laugh with Iowa Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, during a discussion at the school Friday afternoon.

Public schools were funded better during the financial crisis in 2008 than what they are today, according to State Rep. Helen Miller, D-Fort Dodge.

“In 2008, 2009, when we had the singular event — we had an international crisis in what happened across the world,” Miller said. “Even at that time, in those circumstances, schools were funded much more adequately than what they are now. So what has happened in the last seven or eight years that we can’t do any better than 1 percent?”

Miller spoke during a legislative luncheon at the Fort Dodge Community School District Central Office Friday afternoon.

School administrators and local legislators were on hand for the discussion.

It was reported earlier this week that Iowa school districts will see a 1 percent increase in state supplemental aid.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Students at Fort Dodge Senior High listen in while Iowa Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, speaks at the school Friday afternoon. Kraayenbrink visited the school after a legislative luncheon with FDCSD administrators earlier in the day.

“The thing is now we are no longer borrowing, we are cutting,” Miller said. “Nobody can actually explain what is going on. Why we can’t do better? Even that year, what is the difference? A lot of it has to do with these tax credits and things. We have been talking about them for years. You can’t say it is or is not the problem, but it deserves a look at to see where we are going.”

Miller announced in January that she will not seek re-election this year, which will end her career in the Iowa House of Representatives.

Stu Cochrane, FDCSD board president, said this level of funding is not sustainable.

“Because we all are so invested in education, we are always fearful that we start looking at money instead of kids and families and the things we need to do to serve populations,” Cochrane said. “The reality is at 1 percent we are not keeping up. At 1 percent we are going backwards.”

Bill Kent, FDCSD board member, agreed.

“I am a numbers guy,” Kent said. “One percent is not good for us. If you were to tell me that 1 percent is all we are going to get for the next three or four years, that’s a real problem.”

State Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, said in the last nine years the state’s budget has increased.

“It’s not like we don’t have more money,” he said. “It’s just we are spending on so many things we have committed to.”

He said the Revenue Estimating Conference tells legislators how much they budget for the next year.

“We have to go by that amount,” he said. “It also lets you spend your savings account, not the rainy day fund.”

He added, “You can still give 4 percent if you want to take out of savings account and your normal income, but when that savings account is gone like it is now, like it was last year, when we had to de-appropriate and borrow all that money. Now all we have to work with is just the revenues coming in because we have no more savings account. We had a constitutional amendment that we passed out of the Senate last year that limits the state’s spending only to revenue, not in the savings account. That’s how we run our budgets. Now we are to the point where we aren’t allowed to go there. We have a spending problem.”

Kraayenbrink said the money is not being spent where educators would like it to be.

“We are spending a lot more money, but we are probably not spending it on the priorities that the state wants,” he said. “That’s why we have to get this brought back down so we can start spending these revenues on things that are important to the state of Iowa.”

Cochrane said the 4 percent is an allowable growth number.

“Yeah there were times we are at 4 percent, but unfortunately when we are not a growing district, our percent falls back,” Cochrane said. “Sadly, you’ll get a Johnston or a Waukee, and 4 percent, that’s a nice number. Come to Fort Dodge and we have the same escalating costs, wages, etc. We may be a one or a one-and-a -half. That allowable growth has been a tough number for districts.”

Kraayenbrink said there would be value in looking at rapidly growing districts and districts that aren’t growing as rapidly.

He said while Iowa was recently ranked No. 1 in a 2018 Best States study from U.S. News & World Report, the Hawkeye state ranks near the bottom in attracting corporations to the state.

Kraayenbrink said the fastest growing states are ones with low income taxes. He listed Texas, South Dakota, Arizona, and Florida as those states.

“They have none or very small state income tax,” he said. “We need corporations to come and we need kids to stay or we need to draw new workers in because we have such low unemployment.”

Kraayenbrink added, “If we have more corporations that come and someone needs 250 workers, where are we going to get them? We have to create the environment to have this state grow faster than what it is and in turn will crank up the revenue that we are getting in. That’s a fundamental difference between Helen’s party and my party. We believe we can grow our way out of this. I just can’t see if we start raising taxes and don’t make it a more friendly state for businesses to come to, that’s going to stop that if we raise our property taxes and income taxes.”

After the session at the central office, legislators visited with students at Fort Dodge Senior High.

Ann Meyer and Gary Waechter, who are both seeking the Republican nomination in House District 9, were in attendance.

Students were given the opportunity to speak about issues important to them.

Students discussed mental health and suicide rates, gun control, and having more diverse role models.