After years of stagnant funding, Iowa legislators took a step toward maintaining the state’s historic strength in education with a tentative deal that would increase funding by 2.1 percent. It’s a welcome shift from the minimal increases in the past several years.
Iowa prides itself on the state’s educational systems. Quality and funding are not the same thing — we would point to states in which some of the worst districts spend the most money — but it is undeniable that when systems are starved of funds they will eventually suffer from a decrease in their abilities to meet high standards.
The funding increase does boost the amount given to schools per pupil. That isn’t always a solution, though. Districts that have declining student bodies, either through falling populations or students enrolling out of the district, won’t see the same benefit that those in growing areas will.
The $78.6 million reportedly agreed to by Republicans in the Legislature represents a significant improvement over the $32 million approved last year. But it also leaves work to do. That’s less than what Gov. Kim Reynolds requested. She sought $89.5 million.
There are parallels between what is happening at the state level on education and in Wapello County with pay scales for elected officials. There is a point where parsimony, the slow strangulation of funding through insufficient increases, becomes impossible to ignore.
In Wapello County’s case, the supervisors approved increases this week that were significantly higher than in previous years. But the raises, which were in the 2 percent range, were more than 80 percent below that recommended by the county’s compensation board.
It’s unlikely anyone, including compensation board members themselves, expected the full recommendations to receive approval. But the increases will, at best, keep Wapello County from falling further behind other Iowa counties in what they pay the people who keep the county running.
This year’s increases on both of those fronts is a step in the right direction. They are a step away from the inertia that kept either the Legislature or the local supervisors bogged down in a cycle of minuscule increases pried from the public purse only with the greatest of reluctance.
If actual improvement is the goal, rather than merely holding the line, bigger steps are needed. It’s not going to be an easy discussion. Nor will it be on that pleases everyone. Those who hope to reduce the gaps created by years of neglect in one or two major steps will inevitably be disappointed. So too, we hope, will those who view any increases as misspent money.
Iowa consumers are well aware of the adage “You get what you pay for.” If Iowa wants to maintain its traditional place near the top of the nation’s education hierarchy, it must spend to do so. If Wapello County wishes to move up from the bottom of the heap, it will need to do the same.
While we agree with those who say simply throwing money at complex challenges is a foolish solution, we see a critical difference in indiscriminate spending and reasonable, calculated expenditures. In the former, taxpayer dollars are spent with fingers crossed that somehow it will all come out right in the end. The latter relies on sober thought and a knowledge that money, while not the sole solution, is likely a portion of it.
This weeks moves at the state and local levels are not silver bullets that will bring solutions, but neither can they be the final steps.