With the legislative session just underway, it seemed appropriate to devote this column to educational issues that will be under consideration this year. This year will be no different than any other legislative cycle; there will be legislation each of us support, and ideas with which we disagree.
Provided we can be civil and consider the other individual’s point of view, this process is what makes our country special. Participation in that process is critical to our form of government. Voicing our individual views to our elected officials is important. This session, the Iowa legislature will be considering several specific types of issues related to education, including funding, equity, and the SAVE Fund.
Supplemental State Aid will be discussed, probably during the month of January. This refers to the percentage of increase that is allotted per child a school can spend. I think it is fair to say that we all feel educating kids is important, but we may differ what how much is the right amount to spend for education. The governor has proposed a 2 percent increase.
There are several equity issues that will receive attention this session.
The first is consistency in the District Cost Per Pupil amount. Most people assume each school receives the same amount, but this is not the case. I won’t bore you with a history lesson on why the discrepancy exists, but it goes back to the start of Iowa’s funding formula. Currently the range in district cost per pupil is a low of $6,591 to a high of $6,766, with Algona at $6,624. While that may seem like a small number, when multiplied against enrollment it means that locally, if Algona were raised to the $6,766, we would have an additional $187,922 to spend on kids. Correcting this over several years has been discussed at the state level.
A second equity issue that is being discussed relates to transportation costs. These costs come from the same part of the budget as classroom costs. Statewide the cost to transport a child ranges from a low of $57.82 to a high of $980.87; Algona’s cost is $641.76 per student, and can be attributed to the geographical size of the district. Finding a way to allow schools to pay these costs out of a different fund, such as PPEL, has been a discussed legislatively.
The SAVE Fund, some may know it as the Statewide Penny, was put in place in 2008 as a way to address school infrastructure while alleviating property tax burdens.
Locally it has been used for the construction of a middle school, many repairs, buses, computers and most recently the Ed and Betty Wilcox Performing Arts Center. Without it, we would need to increase our local property tax levy by $1.37 to service the bonds for the middle school and PAC.
This legislation is set to expire in 2029, but there are bills being proposed that would extend the sunset to 2049.
Regardless of your views, I would encourage you to communicate your thoughts on issues with your elected officials whether at the local, state, or federal level.
Marty Fonley is the Algona School System Superintendent.