By Senator Mike Gronstal, Senator Pam Jochum and Rep. Mark Smith
It’s time to set the record straight on why Iowa schoolchildren, parents, administrators and teachers deserve a special session of the Iowa Legislature.
At the end of the 2015 legislative session, Democratic legislators were disappointed in the small increase in education funding, but we chose compromise over gridlock.
We vowed to fight again next session for the kind of increase that Iowa schoolchildren deserve. And we promised to keep listening to advocates of public education in our state. We respect the work that teachers, administrators and school board members are doing every day.
When Governor Branstad vetoed the bipartisan compromise on education funding, however, Senate and House Democrats immediately called for a special session to overturn those vetoes. That shouldn’t be a surprise. We meant it when we voted to increase educational opportunities at our public school, community colleges and state universities.
The response by Republican legislators to Governor Branstad’s vetoes was swift and disappointing. Their message to Iowans is simple: Quit whining!
According to Republicans, Iowans who value education must learn to accept minimal state funding, fewer educational opportunities, more crowded classes and higher property taxes as the “new normal.”
The actions and rhetoric of legislative Republicans are disappointing, insulting and ineffective. Telling people to stop whining is rude, condescending and, most important, does not work when the facts aren’t on your side .
Fact 1: Iowa education funding has fallen behind the increasing investments made by other states.
Iowa is currently 35th in the nation in average per pupil spending and falling. We invest $1,612 less per student than the national average.
That means that other states are investing more in their schools and are giving their students a distinct advantage over Iowa schoolchildren.
The path that legislative Republicans seek to force Iowans to follow will result in fewer educational opportunities for our children. Iowa’s next generation will be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to higher education and job opportunities.
Legislative Democrats remain committed to investing the resources necessary to make Iowa schools #1 in the nation again.
Fact 2: Iowa has enough money to make the necessary investments in our schools and schoolchildren.
Contrary to the rhetoric of Governor Branstad and legislative Republicans, the fiscal sky is not falling in Iowa.
The nonpartisan Revenue Estimating Conference is projecting that state revenues will grow by 6 percent in new fiscal year that started July 1.
We balanced the state budget in a fiscally responsible way. Iowa is expected to have a budget surplus of more than $300 million and almost $700 million in our reserve funds, the largest amount in state history.
Fact 3: The Governor’s reckless vetoes were not motivated by fiscal responsibility.
It made no fiscal sense for Governor Branstad to veto a compromise package that included funding for K-12 schools, community colleges and our state universities.
That’s because the compromise budget approved by the Legislature this year actually spent $165.8 million less than the budget that Governor Branstad proposed in January. In fact, the Legislature spent only 98.3 percent of available revenues, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. (The law allows the Legislature to spend no more than 99 percent of available revenues.)
It’s unclear what the Governor’s motivation was for vetoing critical education funding. However, it’s clear that fiscal responsibility wasn’t the real reason.
Democratic legislators are tired of the excuses from the Governor and legislative Republicans. We continue to believe that a strong investment in schools is crucial to our shared objective of world-class education for Iowa students. And the quality of Iowa education is central to our goal of expanding Iowa’s middle class.
Please contact your state legislators today and ask them to join the call for a special session to restore critical funding for Iowa schools.
Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs is the Senate Majority Leader; Pam Jochum of Dubuque is the Senate President; and Mark Smith of Marshalltown is the House Democratic Leader.