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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES - Republican senators are working with Gov. Kim Reynolds to direct federal money to cover a projected $7 million shortfall that hit Iowa preschools when enrollments dropped as parents kept their kids home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, told a subcommittee meeting Tuesday she is working with the governor's office to use federal early childhood dollars as part of a measure being formulated to provide one-time supplemental school funding to help districts that incurred costs related to the pandemic, the Aug. 10 derecho and other challenges.
The Senate amendment also would provide money to area education agencies that incurred COVID-19-related expenses while serving districts with in-person learning, she added.
Sinclair said proposed changes are being formulated to a $27.2 million Iowa House-passed bill that would provide one-time money to use for 'qualified” K-12 instruction costs incurred by 327 school districts that were hit with extra pandemic expenses for cleaning, transportation and other needs at a time they also suffered from 'depressed certified enrollments.”
House File 532 proposed to make the supplemental funds available yet this fiscal year, but Sinclair indicated a Senate amendment could peg implementation for the 2022 fiscal year beginning July 1.
The House plan also differed from a previously passed Senate version that would have provided funds for 326 districts - but not Des Moines - and included language to treat schools that did not have in-person instruction because of derecho damage as if they were in session.
'Most districts are going to see the need for dollars in the next fiscal year, so we will be looking at getting these dollars out after the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year so those moneys go in when the depressed certified enrollment actually hits budgets,” Sinclair said during a Senate Education subcommittee that forwarded the legislation to the full committee for additional work.
However, Kelly Augustine Donnelly, a preschool administrator in Des Moines, expressed concerns that preschools would have to look at laying off teachers or turning parents away if more aid is not forthcoming until July 1.
'My budget is literally written in crayon,” said Donnelly.
'We want something that's going to give us stability,” she told subcommittee members. 'The not knowing has been the stressful part for everybody.”
Spokespeople for education groups representing school boards, administrators and teachers urged senators to scrap a House-passed funding formula under which districts that had the most in-person classes would receive the largest share of funding and to instead favor an approach making per-pupil allocations.
Regardless of whether schools used remote, in-person or a hybrid of the two models, said Emily Piper of the Iowa Association of School Boards, 'costs were still being incurred and we would like to see the complicated formula in the House bill taken out and distribute money on straight per-pupil basis.”
Margaret Buckton, representing urban and rural school districts, said districts providing remote and hybrid learning had costs associated with technology, training, substitute teachers and staff disruptions that would be complicated to enumerate under the House-passed approach.
'The districts that got approved for hybrid or all remote were the ones that were hardest hit by the pandemic,” said subcommittee member Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, 'but it seems that they get the least support here.”
The Ames Democrat said he was supportive of the changes Sinclair discussed Tuesday, but wanted the time frame currently proposed from July 1 through Jan. 29 to be extended for the full year since schools are still being impacted by COVID-19 issues and may have classes run longer into May or possibly June.
Sen. Tim Goodwin, R-Burlington, said he wanted to know how much additional money K-12 schools in Iowa might receive from, the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus plan in deciding an appropriate level for state supplemental funding.
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