- Associated Press - Sunday, October 23, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa school districts are holding more than $145 million in their accounts, but superintendents say restrictions on that money is making it hard to spend.

The money in dozens of different funds has grown since 2013 when the total was about $130 million, the Des Moines Register reported (https://dmreg.co/2eHe0up ), so school officials are lobbying for more flexibility.

Iowa State Board of Education member Mary Ellen Miller says the legislature should consider loosening the restrictions on this money.

“It doesn’t make much sense to have this money sitting in banks around the state,” Miller said.

But some lawmakers say the districts should just spend the money for the purpose it was intended.

“It’s there for a purpose, it needs to be used for the purpose - not sitting on it,” said Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that governs education spending.

State data shows that about half of the state’s 338 school districts had at least one fund with a balance of more than $50,000 at the end of the 2014-15 school year, and 26 districts had more than $1 million unspent when all their restricted funds were combined.

In Davenport, the district’s preschool fund has grown from nearly $660,000 in 2013 to $900,000 partly because the money is earmarked for half-day preschool.

Superintendent Art Tate said his district has been having trouble attracting enough families to half-day programs, but the money won’t pay for full-day preschool. The district has cut about $14 million from its budget over the past five years while the preschool money sits unused.

In Sioux City a training account grew to more than $1.1 million.

“It’s hard, during the school year, to get subs to cover teachers,” district spokeswoman Alison Benson said.

Some education officials say lawmakers should allow the districts to spend 10 to 20 percent of the earmarked money without restriction.

“Having all these moneys in restrictive (funds) - it’s becoming stifling,” said Galen Howsare, chief financial officer for the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Other lawmakers and Iowa’s teachers union question that approach.

Dipping into categorical funding to compensate for inadequate increases in general school funding doesn’t solve the underlying issue, and is akin to “stealing from Peter to pay Paul,” union lobbyist Brad Hudson said. “We’re not interested in that.”


Information from: The Des Moines Register, https://www.desmoinesregister.com

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