Faced with the need to fill vacant positions in schools, securing adequate school funding and greater flexibility in hiring are two of the priorities that state heads of institutions want the legislature of Iowa is approaching when it begins its 2022 session this week.
School districts in Iowa are struggling to offer employees a competitive salary because additional state aid – which provides per-student funding for K-12 public schools – cannot keep up with the Inflation and as the private sector also competes for workers as it also suffers from shortages. .
On the job board for Iowa Schools, nearly 200 job openings are posted for the Cedar Rapids community school district alone.
“When I look at our state’s account balance – billions – they can afford to fund schools and staff,” Cedar Rapids Superintendent Noreen Bush said. “If we have so many openings right now in the middle of the year, what will March, April and May bring us? We as schools cannot compete with other industries.
Inadequate school funding is forcing schools to downsize, increase class sizes and provide fewer learning opportunities for students, according to school principals in Iowa.
The Iowa Urban Education Network, a group of Iowa’s largest public school districts, is advocating for funding with additional state support set at 5%, with a minimum of 3.75% for students. inflationary costs and competitive salary benefits for staff and a supplement of 1.25% for childcare and labor issues.
Last year, on the other hand, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a legislative compromise to increase additional state aid by 2.4%, which increased general state funding to schools and agencies. education in the region from $ 3.38 billion to approximately $ 3.42 billion in fiscal year 2022.
Enrollment in Iowa schools fell by 6,000 students in the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. This year, many of those students – some of whom had switched to home schooling – were returning to class, decreasing the amount of spending per student for the 2021-2022 school year.
Republican Jack Whitver, majority leader in the Ankeny Senate, said the state “has continued to increase funding for schools every year.”
Still, funding for schools has not kept up with inflation, said Democrat Zach Wahls, leader of the Coralville Senate Minority Party.
“Iowa has gone from being a national leader (in education) to stagnation and declining rankings, and I think that’s probably exacerbating the workforce crisis,” Wahls said.
Jennifer Konfrst, leader of the Democratic House minority, said that “underfunding schools underfunds children.”
She suggested tapping into the state’s excess money “to put it in schools … and make up for a lot of things that have been abandoned due to underfunding of the past decade.”
Shortage of teachers
Many schools in Iowa have started the process of hiring for the 2022-2023 school year by December 2021 – months earlier than in previous years – to try to “lock in” new teachers, according to the superintendent. by Linn-Mar Shannon Bisgard.
“The recent decade of underfunding of schools is catching up with us,” he said, adding that he had only received one candidate for an open position in special education for the 2021-22 school year. “We are unable to offer competitive salaries to our teachers and fewer and fewer students are continuing their studies.
“Ultimately, if you don’t have enough people, you end up not having the same quality of people,” Bisgard said. “Without quality educators, we have no chance of succeeding in an education system.
Part of the school staff shortage could be alleviated by writing off student loan debt for aspiring teachers, making it easier to transfer their teaching licenses from state to state, and revising the requirements to allow teachers non-traditional to enter the classroom, educators suggested.
“We want to make sure we have high standards for our teachers and also want to make sure they’re realistic,” Bisgard said.
Democratic Senator Claire Celsi, a member of the West Des Moines Senate Education Committee, said schools across the state are suffering from a shortage of teachers, substitute teachers and other staff.
“Schools need flexibility and innovation to hire replacements, bus drivers and other staff and to use non-traditional teachers (with appropriate pedagogy). Our educators and our families are tired and stressed – and that is not lost on me, ”she said.
Vouchers and Choices
Last year, a voucher bill that would allow public money to be used for private schools was not passed by the Iowa legislature.
House Study Bill 243, which would create the private scholarship program, would allow K-12 students attending one of the 34 lowest performing public schools to get a scholarship of around $ 5,200 to attend another school – religious, private, chartered or at home.
Whitver said support for the vouchers “isn’t going to go away” as parents continue to ask for more school choices.
“There are a lot more Iowans committed to giving parents more choice, and a version of the K-12 scholarships is still alive in the House,” he said. “The attention is not going away, the support for this problem is not going away. “
But opponents like Konfrst say the good guys could have a “devastating impact” on rural schools.
“If we give public money to private schools and allow children to leave small towns and go to private schools with public money, then those small schools are going to have to close,” Konfrst said.
Public schools already provide choice for families, said Bush, the superintendent of Cedar Rapids. The Cedar Rapids district, for example, offers educational opportunities at Magnet schools, in person, virtually and at home, and allows for open enrollment.
“We’re already concerned about funding our schools, and (the good guys) are taking funding away from our schools,” Bush said.
Republican Rep. Megan Jones, of Sioux Rapids, said she would open the conversation “beyond the good guys” to find ways to help schools.
“We need to delve into the burdens that limit our schools, our archaic laws and our options for openness, especially for public schools,” she said.