The state of Iowa is neglecting a program that helps the state’s public schools obtain revenue for instruction and materials, according to a statewide association dedicated to helping schools and local school officials.
The Instructional Support Levy program, widely used in Iowa, allows districts to generate an additional 10% of their regular program dollars with board or voter approval, according to the Iowa Association of School Boards. Boards may approve the program for up to five years, and voters may approve it for up to 10 years.
The Council Bluffs Community School District Board of Education voted on May 28 to extend the district’s Instructional Support Levy for an additional five years beyond its expiration date, which is June 30, 2021. Since it is only an extension, it will not change the district’s tax rate. The levy is $1.69 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, although it fluctuates slightly, based on a state formula, according to Diane Ostrowski, chief communications officer.
“The Instructional Support Levy generates in Council Bluffs $2.9 million in local funds annually to help pay for teacher salaries and instructional materials,” said Dean Wilson, chief financial officer. “The state’s portion of the funds would provide an additional $2,297,511 that would stretch the school district’s budget further.”
Residents in Lewis Central Community School District voted in September 2014 to extend that district’s ISL for 10 years beyond its next expiration date, which was June 2016. Lewis Central’s ISL includes a property tax of about 54 cents per $1,000 of taxable valuation and a 6% income surtax.
ISL funding was set up to be based on a formula that includes a local portion (property tax or a combination of property tax and income surtax) and a state portion. The state portion is to be based on the taxable valuation of a school district, with more aid going to districts with lower taxable valuation per pupil to balance it out.
However, the state portion has not been fully funded by the Legislature since fiscal year 1992 and has not been funded at all since fiscal year 2011, according to the Iowa Association of School Boards. In addition, districts do not receive spending authority for the unfunded state aid portion, which totaled $93.6 million for fiscal year 2020.
“The issue impacts all school districts, but the impact is greater as the taxable valuation per pupil of a school district decreases, thus creating a funding inequity,” according to an explanation on the association’s website.
“When the state does not fund their portion of the ISL, it does create inequities between districts based upon taxable valuation,” said Eric Knost, superintendent of Lewis Central Community School District. “Costs per pupil are not equal between all districts, which simply means some districts can generate more revenue than others … Regardless, the point remains that less funding equals fewer resources for students.”
Since no one receives the state portion, the disparity between districts varies, said Paul Gausman, superintendent of Sioux City Community Schools, which has the lowest taxable valuation per pupil in the state.
“We often are able to achieve the same amounts district to district, but again it is a further tax on the local property when we don’t receive state aid to make that amount occur,” he told the Nonpareil.
Council Bluffs Community School District is in the lower tier of districts when it comes to valuation per pupil. The district has a taxable valuation of $2,234,280,451 and a budget enrollment of 9,053.9, as of 2018. That makes for a valuation per pupil of $246,775. The district’s ISL is 63.5% funded.
Okoboji Community School District has the highest taxable valuation per pupil in the state. The resort community in the Iowa Great Lakes area has a taxable valuation of $1,352,974,388 and only 978.4 students (as of 2018). That computes to a taxable valuation per pupil of $1,382,844. As a result, its ISL is 93.5% funded, lacking only $43,914 in state funds.
Lewis Central has a taxable valuation of $1,324,897,712 and enrollment of 2,542.8 for a valuation per pupil of $521,039. Its ISL is 82.7% funded and is short $302,829 in state funding.
Sioux City has taxable valuation of $2,622,971,582 but a budget enrollment of 14,569.6, which makes for a valuation per pupil of only $180,030. Its ISL is only 49.9% funded, because it is missing out on $5,020,964 in state funding.