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February 2015 - Volume 23, Number 1


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Do Iowans Value Education or Just Spending?

by Deborah D. Thornton

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” – Joe Biden, Vice President of the United States (2009 - current)[1]


Iowans value education. That has long been a part of our history and our standards. But what does that mean today? Does it mean we keep throwing millions of tax dollars at systems which aren’t working, just so we can say we did? So we can say we “value” education, after all, our budget says we do? Or does it mean that, no matter how difficult, we take a hard look at the results of the education our children are receiving? If those results, for the hundreds of millions of dollars we are already spending, are not acceptable, then we better do something different.


Yes, Joe – let’s show you our Iowa state budget for education. The total state budget currently is almost $7 billion, with Governor Branstad proposing to increase it by 5 percent to $7.3 billion for Fiscal Year 2016. This is the largest state budget ever and requires dipping into the current surplus funds – what families would call savings accounts.


Of that $7.3 billion, education funding (pre-k to college) makes up 55 percent, or just over $4.0 billion per year. The education budget has grown by 65 percent over the last 15 years. The proposed two-year increase for FY 2016 and FY 2017 is $320 million, a 1.25 percent increase the first year and 2.45 percent the next.


Importantly, tuition at our Regent universities is not being increased – for the third year in a row. That is a significant value to our young people and their parents.


In some previous years, more money was promised – as much as 6 percent. But it was not paid. One year (October 2009) a 10 percent across-the-board cut was made – during the Great Recession – by Governor Chet Culver (Democrat) because the money promised was not available.[2] The money promised by Governor Branstad the last four years has been paid. Teachers have been paid, reform programs are being implemented.


But some people still want more and claim that the Governor and the Iowa House of Representatives do not value education. They claim that we rank 34th in the nation in per pupil spending, that our children are being short-changed. The children may be getting short-changed, but not by spending too little on their education. They are being short-changed by the results we are getting for our money. Take a look at the reality of education spending in Iowa, compared to our cost of living and the education spending of our neighboring states. The tables on page three and four outline where we stand.


Our cost of living is significantly less than that of many states, and our education funding is proportional. We actually fund education at a higher rate than some of our neighboring states, as our cost of living ranks fifth and our teacher salaries rank fourth.[3] That means our regional education price parity is right on target, i.e. we are spending just as much as other states are on a cost of living basis. Our teachers are being paid just as much.


We have increased our funding by 65 percent over the last 15 years, while losing 5 percent of our students. That is even with four years (FY02, FY04, FY10 and FY11) where the state was not able to pay the schools what they had been promised. Is it better to promise and not pay? Or pay what you promise? My credit card company chooses the latter!


I propose that we pick up our backpacks and get to work, implementing real education reform, real school choice, and provide our parents and children with the options they need to ensure a great education – because, yes, Joe, that is our value and that is where we put our money. Let’s prove it by getting results, not just writing checks and pretending we value it.




[1] “Joe Biden Quotes,”, <> accessed on January 29, 2015.
[2] Rod Boshart, “Culver Orders 10 Percent Across-the-Board Cut,” Quad City Times, October 8, 2009 <> accessed on January 29, 2015.
[3] Steve Goldstein, “Here Are The Most And Least Expensive States To Live In The U.S.,” Market Watch, The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2014, < data-suggest/>.


IOWA ECONOMIC SCORECARD is our quarterly economic forecast, arriving in February, May, August,
and November. It consists of statistics about and analysis of the Iowa economy.


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