Editorial: Branstad’s short-term education solution will hurt in the long run

Editorial Board

In a move far less surprising than it is disappointing, Gov. Terry Branstad will officially reveal a proposal Thursday that denies allowable growth for Iowa schools during the next two academic years.

The “allowable growth” rate for schools, determined by the Iowa Legislature, determines the annual increase in dollars available per student. This rate is usually determined at least one year in advance; however, last year, the vote on the 2012 rate was delayed in the face of tough economic times.

Times continue to be tough, and we recognize that lawmakers, including Branstad, have some difficult decisions to make. But a vote for no allowable budgetary growth stings like a vote of no confidence for the future of Iowa. It might seem like an effective solution in the short term, but in the long run, it will almost certainly take this state down a road laden with problems.

Brad Hudson, lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association, said to the Des Moines Register that 4 percent allowable growth is necessary just for schools to maintain current programs, explaining that every 1 percent of budget growth equals about $30 million in state aid.

Think about that. If Iowa schools require a 4 percent growth just to keep up their current programs — which are already in peril, in many cases — what will happen with zero allowable growth? What will be cut? What can be cut without severely endangering the quality of Iowa’s education system?

“Education Week” gave Iowa a C+ grade in its 2011 “Quality Counts” study. Knowing this and looking at the direction state education funding is headed, we find ourselves wondering why we would stay in Iowa to raise families. A C+ education system that’s facing even more cuts: We want more than that for our children, and, chances are, we’ll go somewhere else to find it.

Yes, education is an investment. But it’s an investment that will pay off in the long run. 

“Cutting statewide public K-12 expenditure by $1 per $1,000 of the state’s personal income could reduce the state’s personal income by 0.3 percent in the short run and 3.2 percent in the long run,” according to the National Education Association.

In addition, a study done by the Correctional Education Association concluded that, “Every dollar spent on education returns more than two dollars to the citizens in reduced prison costs.”

Branstad said Iowa is dealing with “an austere budget” that will require “a lot of tough decisions.” But this particular tough decision does not serve the best interests of Iowa’s youth. How did that Whitney Houston song go? Something about how the children are our future.

We understand that now is a time for sacrifice. But by sacrificing the quality of Iowa’s education system, we fear we may be putting the state’s chances at success on the chopping block.

We encourage Iowa’s lawmakers to search for a better solution — one that doesn’t give Iowa’s students, teachers and families the short end of an already lackluster stick.