Iowa school districts got tantalizingly close on Thursday to getting legislative approval for a small down-payment on fixing transportation and per pupil funding problems. However, the Iowa House rejected a $14 million plan, with the Republican majority promising to move on the issue, beginning next week.
The turnabout came just a day after the state Senate added the $14 million to a K-12 school aid bill the House approved hours earlier to raise basic state funding by 1 percent, or $32 million, for the 2018-19 school year.
The Davenport School District, especially, has complained about the state's funding formula, which lets a small number of districts spend $175 per pupil more than others.
The Senate measure would have closed that gap by $5 in 2018-2019, with the expectation more would be done in the future. The bill also would have dealt with transportation costs that are especially high in rural districts, like North Scott.
However, Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing K-12 spending, said the transportation changes wouldn't provide enough help to districts most in need.
Instead, he said the issue would be taken up separately Monday, with an eye toward helping those with the highest costs. "I can give you my word we will address this issue," he said.
Some House Democrats didn't want to reject the money they in hand on Thursday. They said they'd been working on the equity issue for years and urged colleagues to pass it. However, on a 37-57 vote, the House defeated the provision and sent the K-12 spending plan, without the equity funding, back to the Senate.
Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, voted with the Democrats for the Senate's equity provision.
Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, called it a dilemma but said she would "take a leap of faith" and work with the Republicans on a fix. Winckler is on the panel that will take up the equity issue next week. She said lawmakers will consider a 10-year plan passed by the Senate last year that would take a phased-in approach to resolving the problem.
Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport, said Thursday he's "cautiously optimistic" lawmakers will pass an equity bill in the next week or two and send it to Gov. Kim Reynolds.
By failing to agree on the school funding bill Thursday, Republicans missed the deadline that they wrote into law a year ago that requires K-through-12 public school funding be set within the first 30 days of the legislative session.
“We did our job,” Rep. Walt Rogers, chairman of the House education committee, said with a shrug.
Before the House vote, Davenport officials said Thursday they were pleased the problem appeared to be getting some traction. Only a week ago, House Republicans introduced a K-12 education funding bill that included $10 million for transportation costs, but nothing for the per pupil inequity.
Now, both appear to be on the table.
Dawn Saul, a spokesperson for the Davenport district, said Thursday that anything that deals with the equity situation is a good thing. But she added, "We just need to see where it goes."
As for the 1 percent increase in basic state aid, Saul said some of the increase would be eroded by additional contributions the district will have to make to the state public employee retirement system. However, she said the proposed 1 percent increase is not unexpected. It is what the district has been building into its budget assumptions.
"We are looking now at our potential budget reductions to make that amount work," she said.
Legislative Democrats complained the 1 percent increase is too stingy and won't keep pace with the projected growth in state revenues. But Republicans argued that the increase is what is sustainable.
(Reporters James Lynch and Erin Murphy contributed to this article)