DES MOINES — Iowa school districts would get a 1 percent increase in supplemental state aid — about $67 per student — in the next academic year under a plan approved Wednesday by Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
However, the bill took a detour en route to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk to become law when senators voted 50-0 to bump up the $32 million commitment to base K-12 school budgets by adding another $14 million to begin addressing inequities in funding for transportation costs and per-pupil money that affects both rural and urban districts.
Majority GOP senators then voted 29-21 to approve the amended version of House File 2230 and send it back to the House, which must act on the measure Thursday to meet the statutory deadline of setting K-12 state aid.
Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 57-40 along party lines to approve the $32 million state aid piece.
“This bill is about promises and it’s about making sure that we keep our promises,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and floor manager of the $46 million bill. “It is a reasonable and practical promise to fund the educations of the next generation and it’s a promise that can be kept. We’re setting our priority and our budget is showing it.”
But Democrats in both chambers said the $32 million increase in K-12 funding falls far short of what schools need and what the state can afford. The Revenue Estimating Conference projects a 4 percent increase in state revenues in fiscal 2019.
K-12 education now gets about 43 percent of the state’s $7 billion-plus general fund budget, which members of both parties say reflects the priority Iowans, including lawmakers, put on primary education.
“If that’s true and our revenues are projected to go up 4 percent, 43 percent (of that 4 percent increase) should go to K-12,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, a retired teacher. Such a ratio would provide a $124.5 million increase.
Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, likened the GOP legislation to “a poorly written lesson plan — the objective is clear but the methods will have poor results,” noting the bill was less than the 1.5 percent increase that Reynolds had sought earlier in her budget blueprint.
“I think everybody in this chamber realizes that Iowa’s budget is in a mess. But instead of fixing that mess, your legislation busts the budgets of our local schools, your legislation limits the opportunities of Iowa children and that will hurt Iowa’s economic growth for years to come,” Hart added.
At an increase of 1 percent, 183 of the state’s 333 school districts still will need the state to backfill some money for education that otherwise would come from local property taxes, critics noted. But House Education Appropriations Committee Chairman Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said that’s only four more districts that need the backfill than now.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said Iowa’s K-12 education is starting to slip due to inadequate state funding, saying “we’ll hear a lot of this brave talk and bold plans in this election year” in challenging Republicans to “put your money where your mouth is.”
“It’s one thing to put a schoolhouse on the Iowa quarter,” he said. “The real test, however, is putting a few more of those quarters on the table to invest in our kids’ futures. This bill simply does not get the job done.”