Get it done.
Legislation to address Iowa's school equity rose from its year-long coma Wednesday night only to be sent Thursday into palliative care. State Senate Republicans -- spearheaded by Sen. Roby Smith, R-Iowa -- sent a deeply flawed one-year fix for Iowa's fundamentally unjust school funding formula, which, until righted, provides up to $175 more per-student to some schools than others. But the amendment's power wasn't in its effectiveness.
It was a signal to the House, one that, this year, might be taken seriously.
Unlike last year's failed attempt, the Senate this time jammed it within the overall K-12 spending package, a shameful bill that provides schools with a funding bump well below the inflation rate. The House punted yet again, stripping the educational funding package of the meager $14 million down payment on equal funding for hundreds of districts. As of Friday, the Senate was expected to adopt the sans-equity education bill and its miserly 1 percent funding boost.
There's apparently little money for public schools, but, Iowa can somehow divert funds toward tax cuts and hand-outs to private schools. That last little slice of parasitic legislation rolled out in a House committee this past week, which would divert public funds to pay for tuition at private schools.
Budgets are statements of priories. And, no matter how much Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative leaders profess otherwise, Iowa's public schools aren't one for Iowa's GOP.
The school equity issue is the one potentially sugary coating making palatable an otherwise legislative session already full of money-bleeding handouts to special interests. There's no way tax cuts don't ultimately cost Iowa substantial cash. Lawmakers have already thumbed their collective noses at the state's public universities, too. Another bill, which would make it easier to students to transfer to neighboring districts, is a transparent attempt to segregate schools and reinforces the haves at the expense of the have nots.
Yes, the equity piece -- a matter of huge significance locally, but considered a canard elsewhere -- would stand as a small, but important win that would ease the sting of an otherwise disgraceful assault on public education.
Parochialism is a powerful motivator here and Davenport Community School District Superintendent Art Tate has successfully made the case against how Iowa now funds individual districts. He faces an ethics investigation, one that could end his career, after diverting funds -- probably illegally -- to fill the $2 million gap left by the inherent inequality in the state aid funding formula. Some members of the district's school board, too, face possible impeachment for backing Tate's end-run on state overreach.
To his credit, Sen. Smith knows this and has worked tirelessly to address the issue. Smith's back-door crusade has made gains. Last year, the Senate passed a 10-year fix only to watch it die of neglect in the disinterested House. This year, Smith and a few Senate GOP colleagues, successfully inserted the one-year fix that the House immediately stripped. And Gov. Kim Reynolds, facing her first re-election bid, is backing the push to fund Davenport and Maquoketa the same as their neighbors. A bill signing at Davenport Central, rife with pomp, could only help Reynolds in Scott County come November.
All this momentum equated to a promise from House leadership that last-year's 10-year equity fix, an objectively superior bill to what the Senate this year sent over, will get a hearing this week. Democrats representing the Quad-Cities, such as Rep. Cindy Winckler, have warmed up to the bill, which she last year blasted because of its slow roll out.
But, all that said, the ruling GOP is more interested in axing programs than new spending. For that reason, there's good reason for pessimism about the 10-year bill's efficacy.
That said, the governor's backing combined with the Senate's pressure has breathed new life in a push to right a historically unjust funding model that feeds a vicious cycle of white flight and continued decline.
It's passage would be a lone bright spot in a year of egregious hand-outs to special interests that, by design, weaken Iowa's public schools.