Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Education Funding: 4%, 6%, what, you want a blank check?

It’s the week for education hopes and dreams at the Statehouse. We’ll get to the reality sometime in the next three months, but for now, it’s all about optimism and cash.

Everybody is optimistic, some might suggest fatalistic, that big money will flow out of the Statehouse and into school districts across Iowa. The rub is just how much money will flow out of the Iowa Treasury into our enrollment-challenged k-12 system.

It’s kind of a mess. Vilsack is O.K. with a 4% increase and then another $45 million in “add ons” later on down this year’s budget road. The Republicans are wincing, but willing to sign-off on a 4% increase in school funding; they know a powerful lobby when they see it standing outside their Chamber doors and at every community forum. But to the Senate Democrats, sigh, money out the door to anything stamped ‘education’ gets Mike Gronstal’s signature on a blank check. We’re just lucky the sponge-like education lobby only asked for a 6% funding increase.

In translation:
The political spin of the week on education funding:
“I don’t think it’s about 4 percent or 6 percent,” he [Vilsack] said Monday. “I think it’s about what resources do we need and where do those resources need to be directed to make sure that we have great teachers in every classroom, to make sure that every child has a strong start and to make sure that we can invest in innovation and creativity in our system.” (Link to Mason City Globe-Gazette)
And my favorite quote on this education spending spree, from Republican Senator Paul McKinley:
"I guess there's no lack of creative thought when it comes to dispersing public money." (Link to Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier)

Does that include inflation?
Bob, you're right. Inflation is an issue, particularly inflation of the health insurance variety. In fact, as Iowa school districts are unable to band together to create purchasing pools, each district is at the mercy of Wellmark and the other fringe insurers paying double-digit premium increases year after year. It's nuts.

We could sink $200 million or another $400 million into education and very little would end up in the pockets of our teachers. But it might end up padding Wellmark's bottom line.
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