Schools across the state are set for a 2.06 percent increase in per-pupil funding next school year after decisions at the Iowa legislature, but local officials say that funding is not keeping up with costs.
In addition, for the school districts of Marshalltown, West Marshall, Green Mountain-Garwin and BCLUW, the per-pupil increase will not make up for the money lost due to resident students leaving those districts.
Districts have not seen 4 percent increases they used to see in state supplemental aid in “quite awhile,” said Marshalltown Schools Finance Director Paulette Newbold.
“I certainly appreciate the need to balance the state budget, but it would certainly be nice if the school districts could get back into the 4 percent increase range again,” Newbold said. “Low supplemental state aid increases over the last several years make it difficult for districts to keep up with the pace of increased salaries and benefits.”
She is not the only local administrator who feels that way.
“Unfortunately, 2 percent allowable growth for us in both districts, when I look at the actual new dollars, it’s actually still a negative number,” said Green Mountain-Garwin and BCLUW Superintendent Ben Petty. “We’ve had a couple years recently where it was around 1 percent. Obviously 2 percent is more than 1 percent, but it still continues a trend of historically low per-pupil funding.”
West Marshall Superintendent Jacy Large said no superintendent would turn down additional funding, but he said he appreciated the legislature deciding the increase amount early on in the session this year.
“The big thing for us was the timelines and the fact that it was 2 percent or above was advantageous,” Large said for his district.
Newbold and Petty also said they appreciated the relatively quick decision on the amount increase for Fiscal Year 2020. While they may be asking for more funding overall, knowing how much funding to expect helps when school districts calculate the coming year’s budget in the spring.
Getting a cushion
While each of their districts is unique, the administrators all have one thing in common going into next fiscal year: they are on the state’s budget guarantee program.
“That’s based only on your resident pupil enrollment … it’s a one-time kind of cushion, and it basically resets or goes away the following year,” Petty said of the budget guarantee. “Folks can’t think of the budget guarantee as something that’s always in place at that amount year after year to cushion enrollment decline.”
The budget guarantee kicks in automatically for school districts for which the state supplemental aid increase — next year’s 2.06 percent — is not enough to offset the losses those districts face due to declining enrollment.
Since each student enrolled at a district brings in a certain amount of money, when a student leaves the district that money also goes out the door. Each of Marshalltown, GMG, BCLUW and West Marshall saw a decline in resident student enrollment this year, meaning the districts are now on the budget guarantee program.
“This is a part of the school finance formula that ensures that districts have a little bit softer landing when they’re having to deal with decreasing budgets and declining enrollment,” Newbold said. “It just kind of gives districts a one-year reprieve to right-size their budgets.”
The money from the budget guarantee is funded 100 percent through district property taxes, not the state.
Here is how much money each of the four districts are set to bring in via the budget guarantee for the coming school year: Marshalltown will get $259,000, West Marshall will get $112,000, BCLUW will get $39,498 and GMG will get $18,337.
Petty said declining enrollment has been seen at many rural school districts across Iowa in recent years. In fact, 116 of Iowa’s 330 public school districts — more than one-third — are listed on the budget guarantee program.
Statewide, the budget guarantee program will cost $9,848,735, according to information shared by Newbold at a February Marshalltown School Board meeting.
“I think it’s kind of just a migration pattern in the state from what we’ve seen,” Petty said of the reason for resident student decline at his and other rural districts. “It’s just kind of a general migration pattern in the state from more rural areas to more urban and suburban parts of the state.”