The education funding debate is unfolding at the Iowa Statehouse, with various proposals for both the rate of increase for FY 2016 and FY 2017, and how and when school funding decisions are made. This week, we offer a refresher on the formula, and how it drives resources targeted at specific student and school improvement needs. The education community refers to these funding drivers as “categoricals,” which can be further classified as either student weightings or per pupil supplements. The state cost per pupil is $6,366 in FY 2015. For comparison purposes, when the state cost per pupil was $6,001 in 2013-2014, Iowa’s total spending per pupil was $9,761. The categoricals explain a significant part of the difference in those two numbers. This is how they work:
Student weightings function as an additional percentage multiplier times the state cost per pupil times the number of students identified/served by a specific program. For example, a student new to this country that does not speak or read English, is identified as needing English Language Learner services and supports. The district includes that student in their ELL weighting, generating an additional 0.22 weight, or 22% of $6,366. All of those students multiplied by the weighting, multiplied by the cost per pupil, generates the ELL budget. This budget meets the needs of all ELL students, some costing more than others. The weighting is in additional money and is required to be spent based on specific rules.
Per pupil supplements serve as a method of delivering resources through the formula for specific purposes, that used to be line-item appropriations. In 2009, the Legislature rolled those appropriations into the formula by calculating a per pupil supplement. For example, in 2008, the I-35 Community School District received $47,642 for Early Intervention/Class Size which was allocated statewide based on elementary students eligible for free and reduced lunch, and district enrollment. That district had 877 students when the money was rolled into the formula, providing a little over $54 per pupil of additional funds. Each district’s per pupil supplement was calculated based on that formula. Over time, the Early Intervention/Class Size funds have responded to enrollment changes and increases, through legislative decisions in setting the growth on categorical funds. The AEA’s also receive teacher salary and professional development supplements calculated on a per pupil basis.
For both student weightings and per pupil categoricals, the ability to fund the objectives of those programs and meet the needs of those students echoes the Legislature’s per pupil funding decision, now known as supplemental state aid (SSA).
The following chart indicates the various levels of student and program weighting and per pupil categorical supplements, including the state cost for FY 2015 unless a different year is otherwise noted:
Flexibility: Most school districts have remaining balances in various categorical and program or student-needs driven accounts. Those balances are prohibited from being used for general education teachers or costs of delivering the general education program. Additional flexibility would be beneficial whenever possible, to ease the difficulty of directing program resources to student needs.
Timing: Planning for these various budgets, including staffing and program needs, is complicated. Thoughtful planning requires analyzing student needs and driving educational programming in response. If the cost per pupil is set very late, such as this year’s process with the July 1, 2015 rate not yet determined, it’s incredibly difficult to make staffing and salary decisions. This difficulty has ripple effects through the school system.
The Education Coalition calls on our Legislature and Governor to set at least a 4% growth rate per student for the 2015-16 school year and set the 2016-17 rate at 6%, within 30 days of release of the Governor’s budget, returning to the practice required by Iowa Code 257.8.
Schools need sufficient notice to anticipate revenue, make timely staffing decisions, and thoughtfully plan to invest the funds wisely for student learning. The future of Iowa’s students and our state’s continued success depend on a solid investment in the priority of public education.