It seems to me that the people who care most about education policy are those with school-age children and those whose jobs are tied to education spending. If you don’t fall into either of those categories, it is easy not to give education spending much thought. Why should you? But, consider this: Iowa’s K-12 budget for 2009-2010 was almost 4.6 billion dollars, an increase of approximately 1.7 billion dollars over the 1997-1998 K-12 budget*. So, as public school enrollment declined by about 5.5% between 1997-1998 and 2009-2010, the K-12 budget has increased by 57%. Alternatively, we can consider that per student spending (total K-12 budget/public school enrollment) increased by 66% between 1997-1998 and 2009-2010 (from $5,757.59 to $9,582.85 per student).
We have seen the education budget protected as other state programs have been cut. Many of us may see property tax increases. What we haven’t seen is a thorough audit and review of all education programs from the Department of Education, the Area Education Agencies, to the local school districts. Iowa elected officials can no more meaningfully address budget issues while declining to address education spending than Congress can meaningfully address the federal budget while declining to address Social Security, Medicare, and Department of Defense spending. Even in the absence of budget cuts, elected officials have an obligation to exercise continuing oversight over government spending programs. The Film Tax Credit, CIETC and the Iowa Association of School Board scandals should be a wake-up call to all of us that government spending without sufficient oversight invites waste, fraud and abuse.
*All numbers are from, or derived from The Annual Condition of Education Report 2009. See Table 1 for enrollment figures and Table 164 for the Iowa Elementary and Secondary Budget figures.