Senate approves state aid boost for schools in fiscal 2015
By Rod Boshart
DES MOINES — Majority Democrats in the Iowa Senate voted Thursday to approve a 4 percent increase in state aid for K-12 public school districts for the 2014-15 school year.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, floor manager of Senate File 162, said the action to boost state aid by $114 million in the fiscal 2015 state budget was needed to comply with state law and to provide some planning certainty and adequate funding for Iowa’s 348 school districts.
“We are acting among growing concerns by Iowa parents, teachers and school boards that K-12 students will be ‘stiffed’ this year,” Quirmbach said before senators passed the bill on a 26-22 party-line vote. Senators also approved $15 million in increased program funding to the schools for fiscal 2015.
Minority GOP senators argued that the action was premature because lawmakers and Gov. Terry Branstad still have not resolved the fiscal 2014 “allowable growth” rate.
“The passage of this bill does not diminish the commitment that Senate Republicans have to reforming the education system in Iowa,” said Senate GOP Leader Bill Dix of Shell Rock. “However, it is fiscally irresponsible to commit to fund a system before it is reformed. The Legislature has no business setting this rate two years out when the fiscal year 2014 rate is not yet solid.
“We are confident that as the session progresses and meetings continue, we will be able to provide Iowans an education system that prepares students to compete and work in a global marketplace.”
Without knowing next fiscal year’s K-12 funding level or the cost of expected education reforms to be approved this session, Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said senators were being asked to “vote blind-folded” on spending for the 2014-15 school year.
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“We should stop putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
Senators already approved a 4 percent “allowable growth” increase for Iowa’s 348 school districts for the school year that begins July 1, but the Iowa House has not taken up that measure. Republicans, who hold a 53-47 edge in the House, say they want to follow Branstad’s lead in completing education reforms before they turn to the decisions of how much supplemental state aid to provide for K-12 public schools for the next two school years.
“If you want world-class schools, you’ve got to pay for world-class schools,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. “Let’s get this done. This is it. This is where the rubber hits the road.”
Iowa’s forward-funding law requires the governor and Legislature to set the rate of “allowable growth” for schools’ base budgeting within 30 days after the governor submits his budget blueprint to lawmakers.
Iowa schools are funded through a combination of state support and local property tax dollars, with the state providing 87.5 percent of the money. School funding is distributed on a per-student basis to local districts. State supplemental aid for K-12 schools this fiscal year totals $6,001 per pupil.