Try 3 months for $3

DES MOINES — Under conditions that likely would have resulted in a snow day, the Iowa House approved a school funding increase of nearly $90 million, to about $3.3 billion for the 2019-20 school year.

Majority Republicans said the package will increase school funding by 2.3 percent, more than the combined increases of 1.1 percent and 1 percent last year and this year, respectively.

A 2.06 percent increase in State Supplemental Aid, the general fund allocation for K-12 education, and additional funding for per-pupil equity and transportation brought the total increase to 2.3 percent. The package shows lawmakers’ commitment to education, House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said.

“You can’t tell me education is not a top priority,” Dolecheck said before the House approved House File 306, 53-47, on a largely party line vote.

However, before approving it, Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, asked lawmakers to increase the new funding by 3 percent, or an additional $43 million.

The difference between the majority GOP proposal and Democrats’ amendment, Smith said, would include additional per-pupil funding and an increase of the teacher salary supplement.

The $43 million would be a small percentage of the state’s $7 billion-plus general fund, “but it would make an enormous difference,” Smith said.

It would make a difference to teachers, who according to a report cited by Democratic lawmakers, are paid 20 percent less than other college graduates.

“We need to treat teachers like the professionals they are,” said freshman Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, a teacher for 29 years.

Teacher pay raises generally follow the change increase in state funding, added retired educator Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids. If teachers get no more than 2 percent, “that’s less than the Consumer Price Index, (and) teachers will fall further behind.”

“If you want a world-class education in Iowa again, start tonight by voting for this 3 percent,” Staed said.

However, Dolecheck had numbers of his own. The CPI teachers referred to has increased 9.1 percent since 2011 while the state cost per pupil has risen 14.5 percent. Spending on K-12 education has increased from $2.4 billion in 2011 to $3.27 billion, a 31 percent increase, he added.

The second part of the funding package was HF 307. It added $5 per pupil on top of the general fund aid, an additional $2.3 million, for 179 districts.

Also, 185 districts will get transportation equity payments that will increase $7.8 million to $19 million.

It was approved 99-1. Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Fairfield, voted against both measures.