DES MOINES — A last-second plan to address school funding inequities by allowing the Davenport Community School District to use its cash reserves for one year has been included in a budget bill under consideration by state lawmakers.
The plan would permit Davenport schools to use their cash reserves for one year to add budget spending up to the maximum per-pupil allowed in other school districts across the state. The district would have to replenish that reserve fund in the next fiscal year.
Davenport Superintendent Arthur Tate said the proposal offers “no help at all.”
“Since the bill requires that reserves used in that way have to be paid back eventually out of the general fund, the only effect is to make me legal for one more year,” Tate said in an emailed response to the Times Des Moines Bureau. “It does not address the moral imperative to make every student worth the same in Iowa.”
Davenport School Board President Ralph Johanson did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The proposal split Scott County legislators along party lines during a sometimes tense House floor debate.
Democrats decried it as “a shell game.”
“This is not a solution. It does not give them any more spending authority,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. "It does not give them any more resources. It punishes them for bringing an issue to the state Legislature on funding inequity."
Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Bettendorf, said she preferred a proposal made earlier in the year that gave schools below the state’s top per-pupil spending authority to use their cash reserves over three years.
“School districts are asking for our help on this inequity piece,” Thede said of the one-year proposal debated Monday. "They’re asking for us to do something responsible. This is not responsible."
Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, implored his Democratic colleagues to support the proposal, which he said allows Davenport schools to address its budget issues for one year without raising property taxes.
“This is what we come up with now,” Paustian said. “And I do want to work with you (Rep. Winckler) next year to find a permanent solution. … This is just a one-year deal.”
Leaders in the Davenport school district seek to close a budget hole by using its cash reserves, which is not permitted by law. The district is constrained by law to spend less per student than other districts; the disparity reaches as much as $175 per student.
Tate and the school board have pledged to use the district’s cash reserves in the 2017-18 school year, which would place them in violation of state law.
The one-year spending proposal was included in the Legislature’s standing appropriations bill, which is headed for negotiations between leaders in the Republican-led House and Democratic-led Senate as state lawmakers inch close to completing their work for 2016.