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Column: Sustainable, sound and wise

By DAVID JOHNSON, Iowa State Senator

DES MOINES, Iowa — Education has been, is and always will be a priority for the Iowa Legislature. Another priority should be responsible spending. Sometimes, the two compete for attention.

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That happened this week in the Iowa Senate, when we debated how much to increase per-pupil state spending for prekindergarten-grade 12 schools in the 2016 fiscal year. Please remember, education is more than preK-12: it’s also nonpublic schools, home schools, public universities, community colleges, private colleges and universities.

More details are included in the following remarks I made on the Senate floor Feb. 5. I voted no on a proposed 6-percent increase in “allowable growth” or “supplemental state aid.” The measure passed on a party-line vote and was sent to the House, where leaders in that chamber have said they will not consider the issue until next year.

Madame President, friends and colleagues: Senate Republicans agree that we are obligated under the law to set supplemental state aid to preK-12 schools within 30 days of the release of the governor’s budget proposal. But every coin has two sides, and Senate File 2079 is no exception. The bill before us calls for a 6 percent or $222.5 million increase in supplemental state aid for fiscal year 2016. That increase is unsustainable, unsound and unwise. Ladies and gentlemen, when will w e ever learn? Did we learn nothing on October 8, 2009, when then-Governor Culver ordered a 10-percent across-the-board cut? That stroke of his pen forced some school districts, long after their budgets had been approved and teacher contracts signed, to take money out of their cash reserves, IF they had cash reserves. That’s just one example of how promises made to fund preK-12 education have been promises not kept by the state. The state has failed to keep its commitment to local school districts over the last 13 years to the tune of nearly $600 million. The state has failed to keep its promise to Iowa school districts six out of the last 13 fiscal years. The Legislature’s failure to keep its commitments has resulted in forcing local property taxpayers to bear more than their fair share to fund our school districts. Promises made, promises not kept. Madame President, Senate Republicans have not forgotten the future funding commitments this Legislature made last year to preK-12 education. Where is our long-term funding proposal for the early childhood literacy program that was part of our bipartisanship education reform legislation last session? Is the commitment we made to early childhood literacy going to be another promise not kept? In the long term, what is our plan to fund the teacher leadership program? Senate Republicans are not going to forget this Legislature’s pledge to keep the best teachers teaching, and keep the best of the best leading others to help develop better strategies in the classroom. Again, Senate Republicans recognize the importance of meeting the supplemental school state aid timeline. And we welcome the opportunity to have meaningful discussions that lead to a sustainable, sound and wise proposal. But so far, we have not been invited to the table. There’s still time to send out invitations. Madame President, there’s still time to be fair to our students, to our school leaders and our district patrons. Friends and colleagues, I encourage you to vote no on Senate File 2079 until we sit down to seek a bipartisan agreement and a funding promise we can keep. Thank you, Madame President.

Public forums: Other northwest Iowa legislators and I will be at the following forums where you can hear updates, ask questions and give comments on legislation:

Saturday, Feb. 15, 9-10:30 a.m. — Eggs and Issues, Spencer City Council Chambers; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. — Hedberg Theater, Maritime Museum, Arnolds Park.

Saturday, Feb. 22, 8 a.m. — Forster Community Center, Rock Rapids

Your questions and comments are always welcome. You can reach me in the Iowa Senate by calling (515) 281-3371 and leaving a message; or by e-mail at

David Johnson of Ocheyedan represents Iowa Senate District 1 — all of Clay, Dickinson, Lyon,Osceola and Palo Alto counties.