Friday, August 7, 2020

School District Property Taxes

Iowa Taxpayer,

It isn't easy to have a conversation about education without talking about money. What is fully-funded, and who pays for it? There are many opinions and definitions of fully-funded, but it is clear who pays for it: you and every other Iowa taxpayer!

Last month, we shared the change in population and property taxes collected for cities across Iowa.

This week, we will share some information about the change in property taxes collected compared with the change in students enrolled.

Here are four examples of what we found:
Sources: Iowa Department of Management and Iowa Department of Education
Each school district faces different challenges and we didn't look into budget decisions of each school board, just the total property taxes levied. 

If you would like us to look up this information for your school district, email

As a reminder, school boards, city council members, and county supervisors control your property tax bill. County assessors receive much of the blame, but they just provide one part of the formula.

Your property tax bill increases because of local government spending. Elected officials making budget and spending decisions should be able to justify why the school, city, or county needs more of your dollars than the person who earned it. 

When property taxes grow faster than household budgets, the taxes:
  • Force people on fixed incomes out of their homes
  • Make it harder for young families to afford their first home
  • Consume more and more income from renters and homeowners alike
  • Allow government bureaucrats to steal choices from taxpayers on how and where to spend their money
According to Iowa Department of Education data, the two largest sources of revenue for school districts are State Foundation Aid (from the state's General Fund) and local property taxes (from your bank account). Each comprises 31 percent of school revenue statewide. 

School districts have many funding sources are most can only be spent on certain items. For example, the one-cent Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) sales tax can only pay for infrastructure expenditures. Those are costs related to the construction and repair of schoolhouse buildings, stadiums, gyms, and bus garages. SAVE dollars cannot pay for instruction expenses.

Creating school district budgets is a difficult process. But, school board members need to think of your household budget, not just how much money they want to spend. Enrollment, household income, and property tax increases should all be taken into consideration.

What's the best solution to control property taxes?

If you haven't taken our short property tax survey yet, click the button below:
Click Here to Take Our Property Tax Solution Survey

Are Iowa's public universities
bloated or under-managed? 

What do you think? Are Iowa's public universities top-heavy with administrative bloat, or are they under-invested and have kept administrative overhead low?

Let us know by completing this one question survey.
Click to Answer a One-Question Survey
Dueling opinions on this topic were recently published in the media. Randy Evans, Iowa Freedom of Information Council Executive Director, recently wrote an article for the Iowa Capital Dispatch saying it is time to streamline top-heavy universities. Evans wrote:
With the number of administrators in universities growing like weeds in a heat wave, the result has been students having to pay tuition that increases faster than inflation. For many, that means a crushing debt load by the time they graduate.

The financial problems for Iowa’s state universities will not get better with $420,000-a-year special assistants to the president in Iowa City, or with assistant vice presidents for “specialty business services and cultural arts” in Ames, or with three associate vice presidents at Iowa State having finance in their job titles, plus a senior vice president for finance.

It is long past time for the Iowa Board of Regents to look for ways to streamline the administrative structure at these schools. The education of 60,000 students annually is at stake.
In response to Evan's article, David Leslie, chancellor professor of education emeritus at the College of William and Mary, submitted an op-ed to the Des Moines Register. Leslie argues:
Author Randy Evans oversimplifies the complex realities universities have faced for decades.

Evans implies that administrative expenditures are out of control, but that is not true nationally or at Iowa’s universities. In fact, Iowa’s universities are under-invested, if anything, in several important functions compared with their peers.

External pressure for accountability now requires specialized attention to affirmative action, student rights and privacy, environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, and more complex rules for accreditation and student financial aid. Universities are subject to all the regulatory demands facing business and agriculture, and more. Yet Iowa’s universities have kept their administrative overhead low to the point of under-investment.
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It’s easy for politicians to yield to noisy special interest groups when the taxpayer keeps quietly paying the bills.
Copyright © 2020 Iowans for Tax Relief, All rights reserved.

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