Exploring Iowa school district funding: Equity of costs per pupil and rules of the road
Alex S. Tuckness
Leading the country. Between the 1830’s and early 1900’s there were upwards of 14,000 one-room schoolhouses strategically located across Iowa. Most sections of the state were filled with one-room schoolhouses located between two to four miles apart. Prior to the advent of the yellow school bus, students walked to school or rode horses, among other forms of transportation. Enrollment increased sharply after 1902 when school-age children were required to attend school under the State’s adoption of compulsory school legislation, albeit with bitter debate and following several failed attempts at passage.
Iowa educational requirements have been codified since the earliest settlers enacted legislation at the First Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa in 1839. At that time, legislation was passed requiring all counties to open and maintain schoolhouses – primarily financed through attending students’ families. Funding of education in Iowa has undergone multiple changes since 1839. In 1859, legislation was enacted to require all townships to provide local schoolhouses.
Today, attempts to appropriate adequate funding are under constant debate among citizens and their elected representatives. Current school funding in Iowa is based on the school aid formula first introduced by the Iowa Legislature in the early 1970’s. The formula was enacted to allow districts – then operating above an established baseline – to continue operating with higher budgets. In addition to variances in statutory student funding levels, schools are required to provide transportation to entitled students without consideration in the funding formula. The purpose of this study was to create a description of historical school funding legislation in the state of Iowa and funding differences across current school districts. The data show statutory funding levels differ between districts, and as a result pupil classroom funding is unequal and lead to inequitable classroom opportunities.