Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Education as a Percent of the Iowa State Budget: A Measure of Priority-Guest Blog

“Don't tell me where your priorities are. Show me where you spend your money and I'll tell you what they are.”  —James W. Frick (1924- ), Former Vice President for Public Relations, Alumni Affairs, and Development, University of Notre Dame

Exactly what is the percent of the Iowa State Budget spent on PK-12 education?

That should be fairly easy to determine, one would think. But it all depends on assumptions and what is included in the revenues compared. We’ve heard everything from 43% to 60% of the state budget is spent on education. Those numbers are mathematically correct based on different assumptions, such as considering only the state General Fund and whether you include community colleges, regents and other educational line items. However, a more in depth look at the numbers shows the relatively low priority investment Iowa makes in K-12 education compared to the rest of the nation.  

According to LSA Fiscal Facts, June 2013, page 43, 25.0% of FY 2012 State Governmental Expenditures are spent on Education. Although well below the 43% figure often quoted, that’s still not even the whole story.

Apples to Apples: The National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO) published their annual State Expenditure Report analyzing all state expenditures excluding bonds (not just general fund.) In their analysis on Table 5, page 11, titled State Spending by Function, as a Percent of Total State Expenditures, Fiscal 2012, they report the following percentages:

Iowa Elementary and Secondary Education for FY 2012 was 16.8% of total state spending. That compares with an average of 18.9% in the plain states region in which Iowa is categorized and well below the national average of 20.0% for all states.  

Also worthy to note: Iowa dedicates 25% of total state spending to Higher Education, which is well above the national average of 10.5%. Although Iowa is fortunate to have three regents’ institutions, including higher education in total educational expenditures masks Iowa’s lower investment in K-12 compared to the nation. The graphic below, from page 4 of the Report, shows the total state expenditures (aggregated nationally) by function for Fiscal 2012, delineating K-12 and higher education for the nation: 


The history of Iowa’s percentage of total state funds compared to the nation includes data from the report as follows: 

The report also explains spending trends in Fiscal 2013, on page 14 of the report: “States have begun to restore some prior cuts to K-12 education as the economy has slowly improved and state revenues have begun to increase.”      

Members of the Education Coalition Agree: The legislature should follow the law, set the cost per pupil during this legislative session for the 2015-16 school year, and allow school districts to meet planning, budgeting and bargaining deadlines, as well as fully engage in school reform efforts. Any delay in setting the rate will stymie the very school improvement the bi-partisan legislature and governor created last year. Setting the per pupil cost this session for the 2015-16 school year maintains the bi-partisan priority status of educating Iowa children.

Sources: LSA Fiscal Facts 2013, Iowa Legislative Services Agency Fiscal Services Divisions, June 2013,
NASBO State Expenditure Report 2013, 

Brought to you by the joint efforts of Iowa Association of School Boards, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa Area Education Agencies, Iowa State Education Association, and the Urban Education Network of Iowa in support of adequate and timely school funding. 

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