Iowa House plan would pay $11 million toward school busing costs

Transportation costs are a concern in many reorganized - and geographically larger - districts

Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — More than 40 percent of Iowa’s school districts would be in line for a one-time cash infusion to help cover their high costs of busing students under a measure advanced Wednesday in the House.

The House Appropriations Committee amended and approved Senate File 455, which under the House version would make $11.2 million available for busing students to and from school.

The bill also seeks to address an inequity in per-pupil funding with another $2.8 million.

Transportation costs long have been a concern for school administrators and lawmakers as enrollments declined and, in many cases, reorganizations resulted in geographically larger districts.

Under the House Republican plans. 140 of the state’s 333 school districts would get a share of the $11.2 million. Transportation costs run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek, far over the statewide average.

The House plan would buy down the district share of those costs to $432 per pupil, said Education Committee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Ralls. So, for example, North Winneshiek would get $537 per pupil for a total of $152,247 more.

Democrats objected to the plan because it is a one-time appropriation only. SF 455 as approved by the Senate called for ramping up the state share of transportation costs over 10 years.

“It concerns me that we are not willing to address the inequities we know are there in a significant way,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “It disappoints me this is the best we can do.”

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The transportation relief for those districts would be in addition to a 1 percent increase — a total of about $32 million more — in statewide aid for schools that lawmakers have agreed on.

“We’re putting a lot of money into those top districts,” Rogers said. “To say this is nothing is wrong.”

Winckler also was disappointed in the per-pupil inequity piece that would lessen the funding gap for Davenport and other districts from $175 per pupil per year to $170. The disparity between districts dates to the 1970s when the state set per-pupil levels.

According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, 161 districts will get an additional $5 per student from the state. That will generate $1.3 million in local property tax relief for the districts.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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