The Hidden Property Tax Increase

Iowa school districts have a $40 million special education deficit.

Here’s why the issue needs a closer look:

  • Iowa’s school aid formula already generates $380 million in state aid and property taxes to pay for special education. The $40 million deficit that automatically raises property taxes is what districts spent above and beyond the $380 million.
  • Up until 2008, the deficit hovered around $20 million. In 2008 it jumped to $31 million and in 2009 to $40 million.

  • Iowa also gets $120 million in federal money for special education but little of that is made available for Iowa school districts to spend.
  • Today there are 4,500 fewer students enrolled in special education than five years ago.
  • But today there are 1,275 more teacher’s aides assisting teachers with their classroom than five years ago. Many teachers aides are funded with special education dollars.
  • Iowa’s image as a high performing state doesn’t match the fact that 12.7 percent of Iowa students are in special education. The national average hovers around 13 percent.

Clearly students come to school with more diverse needs than they did ten years ago or even five years ago. Teachers must first manage disruptive classroom settings and then get down to the business of teaching. And, for example, Iowa’s fast growing student population, foreign born students, often lack language as well as basic learning skills.

Every facet of life in Iowa is at a crossroads. K-12 education, in particular, struggles to update itself and to cope with our changing dynamics. A $40 million special education deficit is just another indicator.

In SF 2088, the Government Reorganization bill, the legislature called for a comprehensive study of Iowa’s AEAs. The study needs to examine how Iowa serves special education students. After all, the vast majority of Iowa’s $120 million in federal special education money is funneled to the AEAs or is spent by the Iowa Department of Education.

Its time to air the not-so-great facts and then seriously look for creative, workable, student-focused decisions.