BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds got all but .1% of the public education funding growth she had asked for in January.
On Tuesday, the governor signed into law a 2.4% increase in per-pupil state aid to the state’s public schools. The increase represents a .1% increase over 2020 numbers and will provide schools with an additional $179 per pupil.
However the move could still require budget guarantees at close to 100 districts. Budget guarantees allow for additional property taxes by the district to cover costs due to dwindling enrollments.
According to the Iowa Department of Education, public schools in Iowa lost more than 6,000 K-12 students during the COVID pandemic. Schools with steep declines will rely on the budget guarantee allowance to balance their budgets for the next fiscal year beginning July 1, 2021.
Fort Madison Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said she’s thankful for the increased funding.
“FMCSD is appreciative of the Iowa legislature’s support and the governor’s recognition of the funding issues surrounding public education in general but especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Slater said.
The Fort Madison district is in the middle of it’s budgeting process and has a meeting set for March 1. But District Business Manager Sandy Elmore said the district will not be one of the schools that will be eligible for the budget guarantee.
Elmore said she hadn’t yet looked at updated financials from the state to know what the district’s property tax would be for the next fiscal year.
Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier said his district also will not be eligible for the budget guarantee. Crozier was hoping for a number closer to 3% from the legislature.
“I’m always appreciative of the legislature taking action in a timely manner so we can set our budgets for the following year,” Crozier said.
“I’m disappointed we couldn’t get to 3% this year. It would have been a political win for all to get to 3%. And with the drop in enrollment throughout the state, it would have been a minimal cost to the State of Iowa compared to normal years.
“At 2.4% Central Lee will not be on a budget guarantee, but numerous districts around the state will see a tax increase. We are thankful to continue to be growing enrollment at Central Lee.”
Crozier said early indications point to Central Lee’s property tax levy being down 8 to 10 cents per $1,000 equalized assessed valuations for the upcoming year, despite the debt load on the $12.9 million facilities improvement upgrade currently underway.
The package signed by Reynolds will increase the overall annual spend on public education in the state from $3.381 billion to $3.415 billion in the next fiscal year.
“I am proud to once again sign legislation into law that supports our strong public education system in the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said.
“Our children are our greatest asset and we have to do everything we can to set them up for success. Our record of increasing school funding year-over-year shows our commitment to Iowa’s public schools.”