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This is Iowa Press Show number 16 17 taped Feb. 12 1989. The. Major funding for this program was provided by friends of Iowa Public Television. From kindergarten through the 12th. Grade reform in Iowa was an education system is underway. At the State House the question is how to fairly and adequately finance the state's 433 school districts. But in those districts as standards change and budgets fluctuate administrators struggle to survive. We simply
don't have enough kids in high school. Simple survival with a billion dollars of state expenditures at stake I will press tonight takes a hard look at how to put the revenue into reading writing and arithmetic. This is the Sunday February 12th edition of the Iowa process. Here is Dean board. Good evening the current formula for determining how Iowa's 433 school districts are funded was written in the late 1960s and was modified a few years later but that makes it older now than most of the students know in school. A new school aid formula to distribute state funds in the 1991 school year is now being written but what form the formula takes is yet to be determined. The State Department of Education and Iowa's major education groups have drafted a one billion dollar plan which Governor Branstad endorsed and then submitted to the Iowa legislature. But it is met with varying degrees of acceptance
at the State House. Involvement declines allowable growth open enrollment and basic education reform. These are but a few of the big ticket issues facing lawmakers as they now struggle to write a new school age four and finance formula that's the crowfoot reports. For as long as most people can remember the boys of Palmer high school Leben winning basketball games as the years have passed. The victories have come with greater frequency. The current winning streak stands at 97 games the longest in the nation and includes state championships the past three years but the streak is guaranteed to end for Coach Alton Skinner and his team this season. I plan to share classes next fall with the neighboring town of Pomeroy means this will be the last season for the Palmer basketball team to go solo for the traditionally that year PALMER It's a little hard for us while say we're never going to have another basketball team of Palmer and. It's hard for people to sort of move this up that you know. What again.
I don't know if you can call the progress or not but it's definitely a movement of the times and it's something we're going to have to. Homer is not alone. School districts across Iowa are adjusting to changes in the state's education system. The biggest changes are expected when state officials hammer out a new finance formula to determine state aid. The rewriting of the formula has been an arduous process but at the top of the list of priorities is finding a way to put the money where the students are. Enrollment in I was schools has declined by 150000 students in the past 15 years to protect school districts from an accompanying loss of revenue. The current formula permits so-called phantom students to be counted when calculating budgets. The number of phantom students has nearly tripled in the past 15 years and during the current school year will cost taxpayers some 83 million dollars. The governor's plan which is gaining
acceptance at the State House would use a three year rolling average with a three year phase in period to help districts make adjustments would do away with the terminology that has the negative connotation now of funding phantoms. We're not unique. Most states that fund on a pupil basis do build back in some type of funding for students that are lost. But we've jumped on the terminology of phantoms and that's caused a negative reaction. Greater negative reaction has come from supporters of property tax relief including some members of the governor's own party. They feel this plan doesn't provide enough state funding especially in light of recent revenue growth projections. But the percentage of state aid that makes up school district funding has risen steadily through this decade. Property taxes now account for about one third of the funding under the governor's plan a uniform Levy of $5 40 cents per
$1000 taxable valuation would be retained. The foundation level which determines the amount of state aid would be set at 82 percent of the new cost per pupil. Individual school districts would then have to make up any difference in funding with an added property tax levy. Currently that ranges from a low of $1 in Ventura to a high of $10. In Norwalk it's easy to look at school district budgets and determine the actual amount of money that's coming in from the state versus property in other budgets cities counties and cetera. That's not quite as easy. It's easier to pinpoint property tax relief going into the school system funding because it can be related to the number of pupils that actually are enrolled in the school. Supporters of the governor's plan deny it will hurt rural school districts more than urban ones. A charge frequently made by opponents of the type of district that would be impacted the most negatively would be those school districts that have a
very high percentage of their enrollment is Phantom's. And that their growth over the next several years would be basically nil. There would be no budgetary growth. We could see school districts that would have their funding basically frozen at the level that would be put in place in 1991 while state officials search to find a more stable yet flexible funding mechanism. It's clear the effect of any change in the school aid formula goes beyond dollars and cents. So Alton Skinner and the people of PALMER It could eventually mean the loss of their identity. When you start talking identity you know are you really that first step and you worry maybe 10 15 years down the road we're going to be a ghost town. People like Holden Skinner who's also the superintendent Coleman long have argued that they're doing a good job of educating the youth of violence but the frustration for administrators Mullen says standards change and budgets fluctuate. Frustration also mounting at the Iowa State House
lawmakers have agreed to work from Governor Branstad plan but he spent time this past week defending it against critics from within his own party. And then learn that there is a consensus to scrap a central element of that plan and to increase the state's share of education costs. Well tonight we'll examine the ebb and flow of this politically divisive issue with two of the central figures in that debate there Dr. William Lepley the director of the State Department of Education and one of the authors of the governor's plan and also Senator Larry Murphy of Oelwein the chairman of the Senate Education Committee. The question by DVH Upson. Political reporter for The Des Moines Register and Mike Glover political reporter for The Associated Press. Gentlemen this is a pretty arcane and difficult job breaker for a lot of people to chew on and I are thinking as we look at all these formulas and code words that are used in this debate it really comes down to what does this mean I was children and Dr. Leslie how does this affect kids. Well make the homework assignments tougher. Will it
increase athletic opportunities. What's all this school a debate going to mean for I was school kids. Well the school a formula was as we looked at that when we started this process about four five six months ago at least we tried to look at the context of what is good educational policy. And we started from there rather than starting from tax policy so that we could address the issues that are affecting I was educational system. Seventy six percent of Iowa school districts in the state are have less than 1000 students ranks within the top eight states in the country. How do we fund those school districts and how do we also develop a school aid formula that adjusts to a changing demographic structure in the state. So that's what we work from. I recommended a hundred percent budget guarantee. My belief is that if you're going to take care of the old and skinners children on the palm a basketball team that you have to stability and funding therefore we have recommended that no district would
receive less funding for the next year than they receive from the prior year. Senator Murphy same question to you. How will this affect my children. OK the whole debate I think that's the concern some legislators have and think that those of us that he's committed. In the governor's proposals Wellesley the Interim Committee and in the legislation study this for the last two years basically as we look at the governor's formula I don't see you know bold initiatives. I think what is minimum mechanical reworking of the concepts that have been there since 1972 really 100 percent budget guarantee is not a guarantee in terms of quality education what it does do is it is primarily for school districts a look around as to how they can respond to the changing needs of their students. You know a relatively limited resource let me come at it this way. What's behind all this. Why is this an issue and I worry about what's wrong with the old formula why or why are you guys having this debate look I think this school finance form is really a piece of of a whole series of legislation that we've passed or in the process of passing in the last you know three to five
years and it's all stemming from the Nation at Risk Report as education and legislators and policy makers looked at schools and said you know what we need to do differently for those kids that graduate in year 2000 beyond the. One of the problems of the Iowa system is that the range of your measure for equable funny is the amount of dollars spent per pupil. And when you factor in for example the Phantom's the range of per pupil spending the state basically makes existing formula border on unconstitutional as the courts have ruled going back to pre stand unconstitutional because you were reading districts differently you're paying some inequitably or all of them in equitably really you're paying some for students they don't have and others aren't getting adequate funding. That's great Dr. Leslie. If we could address. But I want to issue I hear a lot of buzz word here schools are going to make decisions down the road here targeting money where kids are really aren't what we're doing here is taking the formula and putting it in place. It's going to gradually start to put the pressure on a lot of rural school districts that tend to be small go out
of business. I think in 1985 when the legislature passed a bill to encourage sharing. That was the beginning of an attempt to encourage it to recognize that individual school districts in the longer necessarily the only vehicle to deliver education in this state and I think as we look at open enrollment is an issue that expands as a whole an issue of the fact that our demographics have changed substantially in this state. I don't think it's any secret that we need to look at how we dollars off all the children would you anticipate if this formula goes into fourth years down the road let's say five will be fewer school districts and bigger schools and I know I think it's already happening. We have 52 we've doubled every year the number of districts that are sharing grades we have 82 school districts sharing superintendents we have 200. I think 40 or 50 school districts are sharing programs so certainly that's true but isn't this a big boost is really what the quote is just beating it up. I think some would
argue yes it is speeding it up however some would argue the fact that we're guaranteeing 100 percent of the budget from the year before that in fact we are not to sell our legislature you can't cut food issues but your first year you got to keep everybody whole or nothing is going to pass. Senator Murphy can you sell it one Slater could put in terms of speeding school consolidation and take the political decision I was been made not to force your organization by statute and statute so you go down and slam is going to force it or bad manners that you have going on and said I don't think the reality is the reorganizations going to take place primarily because of pressure the quality of education. It's open enrollment is a prime example of how the needs of parents have have changed the political spectrum much quicker then we politicians would have let two years ago I had a struggle to get the open enrollment bill very similar the one that passed the Senate last week with 33 votes. I had a struggle to get out of committee and pass the Senate with 27 votes this time it rolled through there was no doubt there was an impasse in the Senate. There's no doubt it's going to pass the House that's because
parents are saying schools are not addressing what my children need to succeed. You know in the next general what do they want and what is open enrollment going to do for them and that's really the basis of the question because what you're really addressing there is the fact that now they can go. You're from the old wine district. So now students from what my district could watch Valley Valley can go to your school or vice versa. That will decrease the state aid to one or the other. So the parents get I'd like to speak to them and who are we talking about here we talk about kids and we talk about school districts or we talk about communities for a time about funding kids. And when we talk about issues like open enrollment we're talking about parent choice to choose. And that's what we ought to be talking about not what effect it has on school districts. If we're truly talking about a school funding formula because I could argue that the 10 percent instructional fund that's a part of the governor's budget is a significant new initiative a bold initiative I believe and that in fact allows local districts to increase their budget by 10
percent if they want to make decisions or to increase their tax has not been the question all along though. Are we going to preserve school districts or are we going to legislate for the good of the student that's the question you ask that's what I'm proposing this plan does because part of the plan then close the open enrollment option. Let's go to the open room with open enrollment system school kids can in effect pick the school to attend to meet their individual educational needs. The open enrollment plan is going to Florida's legislature going to let my kid decide which school he wants to go to or is going to let it be so tightly restricted to two or three kids are going to get from the whole state. It's early in the game as the Senate bill is passed. You are you as a parent will decide where your child go with little or no restriction the the house tends to take a more conservative view of it but I'd say the politics has changed so drastically that I think it's going to be. Very relatively open enrollment concept. So my kids will be able to cite where she wants to go to school.
You is apparently cyber child of the sun or more what about I mean buckle up was doing a work for Mike and I her a night asking a question like that. What about it. Why aren't you politicians doing something to close down small inefficient school districts. Every expert has told you you got too many and I won't. And here you are saying we're writing a bill for parents and districts. Isn't the issue the children in this state. Boils down the votes you need 26 votes in the Senate you can garner 26 votes to force reorganization. I co-sponsored in a minute with Joe Brownback of the state reorganization debate to set a minimum of three hundred. I got 17 votes he viewed that as a victory and I view it as you see. All right so all things are political Don't you think then it would be better to wait on this debate until 1993 after the legislature's reapportion and some of these rural interests of had their power reduced. We can't afford a way in terms of in really I think the other point of writing a bad plan and why can't we afford to wait. There's a lot of you know if you want to call the governor's plan that I don't know you're the one to say I didn't because to get votes in the Senate not me. What I'm asking you is if it's a matter of getting votes in the Senate why don't
you wait until the Senate gets reapportion. Because I don't think that guaranteed to be honest. If you look at the number of urban voters that each legislator has a house and Senate versus farm it's not a situation where the votes are there. The genetic mentality of people in the legislature I think would reflect the feelings of the people that we represent. That it's a rural small town I was an integral part of that state and we're not going to take a hammer and bring them to a battle. What will this mean to taxpayers. Talk about parents a bit and an educator but what is this going to all this the debate about formula and who pays. What's it going to mean to a property tax payer into an income taxpayer backed her up with. Well. First I'd like to point out this plan is a plan that does include the provision that sunsets the sharing agreement dollars at the end of five years which will cause school districts to make decisions about how they're going to look into the future.
If they don't local districts have got some flexibility in this plan to make their own decisions about taxes right. Yes they do. Yes they do and also they have to make some decisions if they want to sharing incentives to continue if they don't they'll lose that opportunity at the end of the next five and districts have the option under this plan to make that either property or income property taxes property taxes. So while property taxes could go out. Well the the all the governor's proposal would be that there would be a 9 million dollar state commitment per year for each of the next three years to hold property taxes at the level they're currently in D.C. then that is we talk about school finance and the good of the kids. It's not a sterile debate. We can win those arguments and get the votes in that arena. The other part of this debate is the property tax issue. There's people in the state who feel particularly in the rural areas that have gone through a farm crisis feel oppressed by the prices are going for the commodities. They feel burdened by a property tax. There's a perception that part of legislators Traditionally this Kool-Aid form has been used not only to hold harmless property taxes but relieve property taxes as a chart of the front end of this program show. And see that's the
other into the debate that we've got to deal with is the 10 percent leeway whether it's a board vote I mean that's a drastic change in you know politics as well as just the issue of using proper tax to replace dollars they would have lost in Phantoms and when you enter that then you bring the community then you bring businessmen then you bring farmers in all those groups they represent into the debate and the kids tend to get set aside as we begin talking about tax equity. The question is I was happy this year. I mean look you strip away get to the bottom line is what's happening. A program that Dr. Leslie says was written for school kids of all I want is getting junk for political consideration. I think that first of all has an agenda I think but you can't in terms of of the program that was written. Probably the biggest concern if you take a look at it the way it's been structured it appears to me to have been written with a budget target in mind. If we're successful past the gunner's program as he is it will divert or digress from tradition in terms of rewriting school inform as elsewhere in the
country you normally have to put new money and in essence to buy off individuals in terms of the tax issue as well as as equity between school districts and winners and losers in this program doesn't do that that's what makes it very hard to sell unless what you what are you accomplishing if you are just changing the labels I mean you want to get rid of phantom students but on the same sentence you're saying we want to hold harmless now but districts that the way I decode that is we're just not going to call them phantom students anymore. Is that right. Both go together. You know. You're in there. The current expenditure per pupil is about 2000 slightly over 2000 dollars from the top to the bottom. This plan would reduce that difference to something like $200 per pupil. So it's a substantial improvement and that's what it's doing is recalculating a purposeful cost of moving the dollars to where the children are rather than now they as a program showed at the beginning were funding a lot of kids that aren't there and some districts are rewarding them for that. After you're all done with this. Well more of my tax dollars go for
education for real warm alive kids. The governor's proposal would move the state's share of funding education from 57 percent to 60 percent of the state's budget. And what about when the Senate's done working over the weekend it's too early to call. I think the girl you know you know all I want to introduce another subject yourself and your thought there if you want to in the whole issue of school finance I think one of the concerns we have is first of all the phantom issue I think it we have a problem with semantics and I think the reason to get rid of that is people feel like you're paying for kids that are out there. Fan dollars are used to pay for warm the children that originally got a bad moniker out there if they're going to get rid of them. Exactly exactly the real issue is how much it costs educate kids in schools in three hundred five hundred eight hundred thirty one thousand point as you rewrite this foundation plan. Districts now have some flexibility in how they finance education in that home district they have a 67 and a half cent levy which can be used for school building and
grounds upkeep to supplement themselves there they can also pass with voter authorization as that sixty seven and a half cent levy and enrichment tax. Are you at all going to change that. Local control in this school aid for me without those options still be there to bring in some additional money into the district after luckily. Well first of all at this stage my role has been is to develop a proposal plan for debate with the executive legislative branch. But actually this proposal I believe has more flexibility than the previous formula has and the other thing less work from the concept that the present formula that we have a service since the early 70s well. And really what we're doing now is dealing with the system because of the changing demographics. So therefore that was a precept that we started with this to work from the fact that we had a pretty good formula in this state and I think it's recognized nationally. Dr. Leslie overshadow this whole debate about school financing open enrollment that kind of stuff
there are other educational issues sitting on the edge of the state. There are groups of people who've given up on the public school system working for kids at home. It's been an issue for a couple of years. It was all this you are going to make that a priority is the recommendation part of education. We are at this stage we have taken the position to provide consultant support if you will staff expertise to the legislature and trying to resolve that issue we are not taking a position because we have in the past and the issue's been going on at least two three or four years and has not been resolved so that is. Really not a high priority of the department said at this stage of the attacks that it will hit a high priority the legislature. There's a commitment from last year that will try and deal with it. We have an interim committee to study it. There's been recommendations made to the fact the matter is you're dealing with with two groups and each side that are probably as committed religiously to their position as those who want to change
and with everything else you've got to do you've got to rewrite the school before we've got a whole bunch of education stuff to do. Isn't this going to be so just going to quietly slip by the wayside. I don't think so the House already has a bill in subcommittee. I've already given for the other senators and in my committee they have an interest in that area. We have promised them that they will each have a chance to work on a bill and see if they get out I think the one difference this year is that you're not going to see the attempt by leadership on either side to force a compromise he didn't have his own it's up to him. Dr Lepley whenever you ask taxpayers for more money it helps if you can show them that you're efficiently spending what they know give you what is in this proposal or these proposals I guess that will assure I would tax payers that their dollars are being spent efficiently. On education you hear a lot of talk in a coffee shop in Iowa that a lot of money out of that school is being wasted. Is there anything in here that will assure the taxpayer it's efficient or it suggests what comes as close to that is to ensure that the taxpayer dollars follow all of the
student and that gets into that phantom student recalculating the per pupil cost of that so that there's an equity issue across the state. I'd also suggest something start in the school a pharmacy that will help taxpayers and I was in general and the future is the whole report card issue that we have introduced that will be a way as we develop that to show I once how how we're doing as a state and how we're doing locally if we continue to increase the percentage of the state budget going to education the increased need for accountability is going to be substantially up to recently. There's a changing demographics and I would talk about. Something like 83 percent of the people in this state don't have kids in elementary secondary schools and I'm not sure of this number but it's something like that. We talk a lot about I would like an education I'm going to pay for education. Do you sense that that commitment to spend an awful lot of money which occasion is having the say getting smaller increasing idea of SR.
I don't think we have a good way. We are assessing that real well now but our approach to that is to be able to try to demonstrate a clear accountability to all citizens of the state both at the local level state level to some of the recent legislations this building as a standard. It's built in to our current concept because I think as people move out the school age era that they do tend to be have a less direct interest in the schools and become more concerned about the balance between educational need and what it's cost and have paid a lot of Democrats great legislative candidates to we have less selection they didn't use teacher pay increase only because there was using to support the education supports there I think the problem is that some of the issues that we're trying to respond to are preemptive and you know it's like the game that we play as legislators when we tell people we see proper tax what we perceive might see proper tax the particular bill that would have been loving the future as opposed to reducing what was living up to their year. I think the concern I have both with the form that's been presented as well is is the discussion that you talk
about in terms of age 3 percent of people not having children school is that the needs of children in school today. And the types of children come in school they are much much different. Than any of us around this table. Remember we went to school and we need to sell that message in order to give those kids kind of education they need some of the Very quickly what's your reaction to this region's audit report that is out today is that something that's going to fly in the legislature. The whole issue of Higher Ed I think the legislators wisely put in there until next year as opposed to trying to do with this year the governor wanted us to. The whole issue duplications again you get into you know the debate between those in the education field versus those mostly all sides. The concern I have on on duplications is that sometimes a duplication is necessary in order to round out the kinds of curricular offering I was state needs. Liberal arts and in philosophy and so on those kinds of issues to take the edge off people as you know who major in science and mathematics field vice versa universe violin needs engineering
courses so that issue can be twisted out of a story that you have your thank you very much Dr. Leppla himself to Richie for joining our discussion here like next week and I will press a look at the rules of the game and the rules that govern college athletics will find out if the two are compatible. Until then for Dave yaps and Mike Glover I'm Dean Borg Thanks for joining us tonight know stay tune for take one. Major funding for Iowa prize was provided by friends of
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Education Reform
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"Iowa Press is a news talk show, featuring an in-depth news report on one topic each episode, followed by a conversation between experts on the issue."
Guests: Dr. William Lepley, Director, Dept. of Education; Sen. Larry Murphy, D, Oelwein. BCA-30.
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