Budget Choices for Iowa: Education Funding
World-Class on a Shoestring Budget?
By Andrew Cannon

July 29, 2011
Full report — Read below or download (10-pg PDF)
News release

Over 1,600 people attended this week’s statewide education summit, organized by Governor Branstad. The purpose of the summit is to “build consensus for how to give all [Iowa] students a world-class education,”[1] and to reposition Iowa as a leader in education among the states. [2] National education leaders from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to former North Carolina Governor James Hunt and current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie noted Iowa’s relative stagnation in student performance in test scores over the last two decades. They observed Iowa has moved from a leader toward the middle among states in student achievement, even at a time when the United States overall lags many countries in rankings of overall student achievement. In 2006, an Iowa Fiscal Partnership report [3] presented information on student achievement very consistent with that offered at the summit. While that report indicated Iowa’s decline in student scores over this period could not be attributed solely to spending on education, Iowa had experienced a relative decline in primary and secondary elementary spending over this period, relative to other states. In recent years, education officials and educators statewide have crafted curriculum standards and strategies that reflect growing recognition of the need to focus on student achievement.

While the summit stressed the importance of teacher excellence, accountability and innovation for Iowa, most speakers also stated that this will not be achieved without new investments in education. This report provides information on overall public investments in education in Iowa over time.

The widening interest in student achievement has coincided with a decrease in overall state education funding over the past 13 years. Figure 1 illustrates the steadily declining levels of state education funding. As a share of the economy, overall state funding for education has declined by 17 percent since Fiscal Year 1998. Funding for higher education — both at community colleges and Board of Regents universities — has borne the brunt of that reduction.

Figure 1. Long, Steady Decline in Overall State Education Funding

Fig 1: Decline in Overall State Education Funding
Even before adjusting for inflation, higher-education funding has in recent years fallen well below earlier funding peaks. The reduction in funding is even starker after adjusting for inflation.

The decade-long decline in K-12 funding, however, seems to have reversed course. State K-12 aid increased in FY11 and is set to increase again in FY12. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) allowed Iowa, during the leanest years of the recession, to continue funding education at levels comparable to and even higher than prior years. As those Recovery Act funds expired at the end of June, the end of the state’s fiscal year, Iowa lawmakers chose to provide state funds to replace Recovery Act funds. The Recovery Act seems to have given state K-12 funding a boost, reversing the decade long trend of declining state funding.

At the same time, state expenditures represent only part of what is invested in K-12 education, as local property taxes, as well as federal funding, also contribute. Over this same period, Iowa’s growth in per-pupil expenditures has lagged that for the nation as a whole, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

State investments in education are also dependent upon the growth in the state economy. Another way to measure educational spending is to look at spending in relation to the state economy and therefore the capacity to invest in education. In this respect, state investments in K-12 education, community colleges, and universities all have declined over this period.

K-12 Schools

In general, local public school district budgets are defined by a formula based on enrollment and a state-defined cost per pupil. Districts meet those costs with a combination of property tax and state aid — appropriations from the state’s general fund. In FY11, the statewide average per-pupil cost was $5,917. [4] State aid has typically covered just over half of the cost of education in Iowa. [5] During the recession, however, as state revenues decreased, the Legislature reduced its state aid appropriation. As a result, state aid levels dipped well below that 50 percent mark in Fiscal Year 2009 and FY2010.

Lower state aid funding levels were not just a recessionary aberration, however. Since the 1990s, the amount of state aid has steadily declined, even when adjusted for inflation. Figure 2 (page 3) illustrates the steady decline in state funding from FY98 until recent increases supported by federal stimulus funds through the Recovery Act.

Figure 2 demonstrates the importance of the federal Recovery Act funds to K-12 education funding in Iowa during the recession — particularly in FY10. The Recovery Act provided over $53 billion to state and local governments through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, a large portion of which went to fund education. [6] Of the $386 million in State Fiscal Stabilization Funds awarded to Iowa for education, [7] over $290 million replaced state aid to local schools. [8]

Thanks to those Recovery Act K-12 education funds, the state provided more aid to local schools in FY10 than it had in any single fiscal year since FY03. As Iowa has slowly emerged from the recession, its revenue stream has picked up. By FY11, state aid levels had reached their highest level yet in 2010 dollars. That upward trend will continue in FY12, as state K-12 funding will reach more than $2.7 billion in 2010 dollars.

Figure 2. Recovery Act (ARRA) Funds Bridged a Gap in State K-12 Funding

Fig 2 ARRA Funds Bridged Gap in K12
Note: Adjusted to 2010 dollars with State and Local Government Price Index. Assumes 2 percent inflation in FY11 and FY12.
Sources: Legislative Services Agency; Bureau of Economic Analysis, State and Local Government Price Index.

These figures, however, do not illustrate the full budget picture for Iowa schools. Each year, the Legislature sets the percentage by which the per-pupil cost of education may rise. This percentage is known as allowable growth, [9] and in recent years it has become subject to wide speculation and fluctuation, leaving school districts with guesswork in their own budget-setting and uncertainty for the time beyond. For FY2011, for example, the Legislature set allowable growth at 2 percent but funded the state’s share for only half of that, leaving districts to raise property taxes to gain the full amount.

For the current budget year, the Legislature set allowable growth at zero — the first time since the current funding formula was created in 1974 that the state did not permit districts’ budgets to recognize and allow for any per-pupil increase in costs due to inflation. [10] This means that local budgets and state aid in FY12 will reflect the same per-pupil cost designated for FY11.

In the legislative session that ended June 30, the Legislature passed a compromise that set allowable growth for FY13 at 2 percent after the no-growth current year. Governor Branstad, who had proposed zero allowable growth for another year, signed that legislation July 27.

Community Colleges

Community colleges are an essential element of Iowa’s higher education system and economy. Since the 2001-02 school year, Iowa’s 15 community colleges have had higher combined enrollment than Iowa’s three Regents universities. [11] In addition to preparing traditional Iowa students for the workforce or further education at a four-year college, Iowa’s community colleges provide job training and corporate consulting to local businesses. [12] This contract training is often publicly subsidized through the Industrial New Jobs Training Tax Credit (260E). [13]

Despite the swelling enrollment and growing role of community colleges, Figure 3 illustrates the steady decline in community college funding by the state of Iowa over the past decade, adjusted for inflation.

Figure 3. Community College Funding Still Below FY98 Levels

Fig 3 Comm Coll funding
Note: In FY10 dollars. Adjusted with the Higher Education Price Index. Assumes 2.3 percent inflation in FY11 and FY12
Sources: Fiscal Division, Iowa Legislative Services; CommonFund Higher Education Price Index

Even before the recession, funding for community colleges had slipped. In FY98, state community college funding constituted less than two-tenths of 1 percent of total personal income in the state. By FY08, it had fallen by more than 17 percent. Over the same period, community college enrollment grew by more than 45 percent. [14]

In FY10, Iowa’s community colleges received $25.6 million in ARRA funds.[15] Iowa did not sustain that boost after the federal funds ended; community college funding in FY11 in 2010 dollars actually declined slightly. Recent actions to increase funding in FY12 leave community colleges well short of historic levels.

Board of Regents Institutions

Iowa maintains three public universities, administered by the state Board of Regents: University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa. In addition to providing thousands of Iowans with quality higher education, the Regents institutions also make significant contributions to the state and national economies through their research, their employment and purchasing, and, in the case of Iowa State, its cooperative county extension. Despite the considerable value the Regents institutions produce for the state, funding for these institutions has also tapered off significantly, even prior to the recession. Figure 4 illustrates state funding adjusted for inflation for each individual institution as well as the Board of Regents as a whole.

Figure 4. Regents Funding Has Declined — Before and After Recession

Fig 4 Regents funding
Note: In FY10 dollars. Adjusted with the Higher Education Price Index. Assumes 2.3 percent inflation in FY11 and FY12
Sources: Fiscal Division, Iowa Legislative Services; CommonFund Higher Education Price Index

As for the community colleges, ARRA provided a significant boost to Regents funding in FY10. Unlike the community colleges, whose funding remained basically flat from FY10, Regents funding has kept sliding in both real and nominal terms.

At the same time that the cost of higher education is rising,[16] Iowa lawmakers have appropriated fewer and fewer dollars to Iowa’s universities — even before adjusting for inflation. See the Appendix for tables of education funding over time.

Amidst higher education inflation and decreased state funding, there have been substantial tuition increases. Table 1 displays the rapid rise in tuition and fees at one of Iowa’s Regents institutions, the University of Iowa. Over the past dozen years, student tuition and fees at the University of Iowa have increased every year but one, and at a rate faster than higher education inflation. Since 1999-00, tuition has more than tripled, and in inflation-adjusted terms it has more than doubled.

Table 1 UI Tuition Growth

The growing consensus for educational reform in Iowa and nationally must necessarily be matched by a commitment to fund it. Iowa contributes a substantial share of its budget to education, and particularly to K-12 schools. But as Iowa’s general fund has lagged growth in the economy, the education share has as well, actually declining in real dollars through most of the last decade.

Funding for Iowa’s education system remains well below historical levels in relation to state personal income. Iowa’s community colleges and universities have lost substantial ground in state support in nominal dollars, and even more so when adjusting for inflation.

Though the recession severely curtailed revenues and thus the state budget, the federal Recovery Act mitigated the impact of state budget cuts. Elementary and secondary education in particular benefited from the Recovery Act funding — a boost the state was able to maintain as the state recovered from the recession, in Fiscal Year 2011.

While state-funded aid to schools looks comparatively encouraging from the last few years, school districts may face a severe budget crunch, as the FY12 budget does not allow them room for growth or for rising costs. Rather than the increase suggested by the actual appropriation figures, FY12 may be yet another difficult year for local schools.

Iowa’s community colleges and public universities also benefited, though not as sharply, from the Recovery Act. However, the state has not been able to sustain these funding increases, unlike in its state aid to K-12 schools. While funding for community colleges will basically remain flat in FY12, funding for Iowa’s three Board of Regents institutions will actually decrease in both real and nominal terms.

As Iowa’s revenue situation continues to rebound from the recession and the state continues to grow its surplus, state lawmakers will have an opportunity to decide what investments are needed to create a world-class education system in Iowa.

[1] Governor Terry E. Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, “Our Future Depends on World-Class Schools,” Office of the Governor, Iowa Education Summit. May 3, 2011.
[2] Branstad and Reynolds. See also “Iowa’s Report Card: It’s Time to Return to Greatness,” Office of the Governor of Iowa, Iowa Education Summit. Accessed July 8, 2011.
[3] http://www.iowafiscal.org/research/061114.html
[4] District Cost Per Pupil FY11, Iowa Department of Management, Accessed July 14, 2011.
[5] “Elementary and Secondary Education Funding Amounts for Iowa,” 2010 State Factbook. April 26, 2011.
[6] State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Department of Education, March 7, 2009.
[7] “ARRA Overview – Spent Funds – Education.” Iowa’s Economic Recovery. Accessed July 13, 2011.
[8] “ARRA (Stimulus) Funding,” 2010 Session Fiscal Report, Fiscal Services Division, Legislative Services Agency, August 2010.
[9] Amanda Krief, “Education Finance – Allowable Growth Programs,” Legal Background Briefing, Iowa Legislative Services Agency, December 2010.
[10] Allowable Growth History Spreadsheet, Iowa Association of School Boards, Accessed July 14, 2011.
[11] “Iowa Community College Student Enrollment” and “Enrollment at Iowa Regents Institutions,” 2005-2010 Iowa Factbook, Fiscal Services Division, Legislative Services Agency. 2005-2010.
[12] See “Custom Training” and “Corporate Consulting,” Kirkwood Training & Outreach Services, Kirkwood Community College.
[13] For a description of this program, see “Iowa Industrial New Jobs Training (260E),” Iowa Department of Economic Development, Accessed July 13, 2011.
[14] Author’s calculations, based on “Iowa Community College Student Enrollment,” 2005-2010 Iowa Factbook, Fiscal Services Division, Legislative Services Agency. 2005-2010. .
[15] “ARRA (Stimulus) Funding,” 2010 Session Fiscal Report, Fiscal Services Division, Legislative Services Agency, August 2010.
[16] 2010 Higher Education Price Index Update, Commonfund Institute, Accessed July 14, 2011.

A Brief Note on Measures

Throughout this brief, spending levels are presented in several different ways. Figures are presented in nominal dollars, as a percent of state personal income or adjusted for inflation.

Nominal dollars are simply the dollar amounts unadjusted for inflation or the growth in the state economy.

State personal income is a measure of the overall state economy. It tracks all income earned by Iowans in a year — accounting for inflation and population growth — making it possible to compare funding levels from year-to-year relative to the size of the state economy. This series is produced by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Inflation adjustments — the change in a dollar’s value from year to year — are used at other times in this brief in order to accurately compare funding levels from different years.

Inflation adjustments often use the Consumer Price Index, which tracks the prices of a basket of consumer goods and services. Consumer prices, however, have little bearing on the costs of financing education.

This brief uses two different price indices that better reflect the change in prices at the governmental level. Community college funding and Board of Regents’ institutions’ funding have been adjusted using the Higher Education Price Index to more accurately capture the inflation experienced at the college level, while state aid to K-12 schools have been adjusted for inflation using the BEA’s State and Local Government Price Index (found in BEA’s National Income and Product Account tables).

See the Appendix for a look at more measures that shed light on state aid to education at the K-12, community college and Regents university levels.

Andrew Cannon is a research associate for the Iowa Policy Project.