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Schools warn of larger classes, fewer education options

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DES MOINES — Legislative Democrats say K-12 schools will be forced to increase class sizes, leave education positions unfilled and delay technology and textbooks purchases unless the split-control Legislature boost state aid to schools by at least 4 percent for the next school year.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, and Rep. Patti Ruff, D-McGregor, released results of a survey Tuesday in which 88 percent of the 257 Iowa school administrators who responded favored increasing state aid to K-12 schools by 4 percent or more, while three administrators favored the 2 percent raise that majority Republicans in the Iowa House support. The House Education Committee on Tuesday was expected to revise a Senate-passed measure calling for a 4 percent increase by lowering the growth to 2 percent — a level below the 2.45 percent raise that Republican Gov. Terry Branstad included in his $7.412 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2017.

“Of course they would want more,” said Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City, chairman of the House Education Committee, in response to the school administrators’ survey response. “You don’t have to waste time doing a survey. I could have told you what the response would be.”

Jorgensen said education and Medicaid continue to receive the bulk of state revenue growth and likely will again in fiscal 2017, but lawmakers have to set a “fiscally responsible” increase given the available revenue to provide a stable source of funding that won’t have to be cutback later due to over promising.

Ruff, ranking member of the House Education Committee, said the responses indicate that insufficient funding is forcing school administrators to pick and choose among education options which shortchanges Iowa kids and the state’s future in the process.

“We’ve been pressuring our schools to do more with less, but the really the reality is at some point they’re going to do less with less, said Quirmbach, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

“I think we have a real crisis here in education. They have been living on fumes for too long. They need a decent increase to meet the needs of our kids,” he added. “I hope that (House Republicans) do the right thing for Iowa children. It’s not a matter of money, it’s a matter of priorities.”

Last week Branstad called for $145 million in new state money for education, which included the $93.4 million increase in across-the-board state aid for 336 school districts and $53 million for the teacher leadership/compensation program. House Republicans contend the state has $153 million in revenue growth available for budgeting next fiscal year, while Senate Democrats put the number at $280 million.

Democrats who hold a 26-24 majority in the Iowa Senate discussed education funding behind closed doors Tuesday but Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said his caucus has not yet set a state aid proposal for fiscal 2018 as is required by law and is still discussing the fiscal 2017 funding situation.

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