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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A House Republican plan to boost state aid to local K-12 schools by 2.5 percent advanced Tuesday with a full House debate expected Thursday.
The increase is consistent with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal and more than a 2.25 percent hike proposed by Senate Republicans. House Study Bill 658, which was approved 14-7 by the House Education Committee, would increase supplemental school aid by about $150 million, raising per pupil funding $186 to $7,413, according to Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr.
Legislative Democrats have called for increasing state aid by $300 million to pay for class size reduction, higher teachers’ salaries, new books and support for mental health and pandemic recovery. A $300 million investment in public schools is more important than the Reynolds’ proposed $300 million corporate tax cut, according to Democrats.
The Republican proposal is for more than 2.5 percent, House Republicans said, when another proposal for $19.2 million for schools to cover the increased costs due to inflation of employing paraeducators, substitute teachers, bus drivers and administrative and support staff due to worker shortages.
Together, the bills would provide a 3.2 percent increase, Dolecheck said.
That’s not enough when inflation is running at 7 percent, lobbyists representing school groups said during the subcommittee hearing.
“With gas and electricity and wages all increasing at such a faster rate, districts cannot offer to attract or retain staff,” Phil Jeneary of the Iowa Association of School Boards told legislators. “Given the state's healthy budget, the state can easily afford a 4 percent school supplemental aid rate while still delivering income tax relief.”
HSB 660, which was approved Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee, would provide $19.2 million to help with those expenses, Dolecheck said. Those funds could be used to cover increased costs due to inflation of employing paraeducators, substitute teachers, bus drivers and administrative and support staff due to worker shortages.
Margaret Buckton, representing the Urban Education Network and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said a 5 percent increase would provide 3.75 more funding for schools “to keep doing what we're doing.” The other 1.25 percent would address workforce and child care shortages.
Although the 2.5 percent being proposed would be the second-highest increase schools have seen in 13 years, the average increase in supplemental school aid has been 1.7 percent over the past 13 years, Buckton said.
If the funding increase is less than needed to maintain staffing and programs, schools can handle that for a year or two, Buckton said, “but the problem is the decade of accumulated cuts has put us in a tough position.”
“Now it's really about students. How do we have class sizes where every student gets the right amount of attention so they can be successful and to achieve their potential?” she said.
Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, found it incongruous that at a time when the state is carrying a $1.2 billion surplus, has $1 billion in its taxpayer relief fund and is expected to grow to $2 billion this year, and the state reserve funds are full, it is underfunding education.
Iowa has fallen to 30th among states in per pupil funding or $1,280 below the national average, he said.
Since 2014, supplemental school aid has increases 11.6 percent compared with the national average of 19.9 percent.
“We talk about the source of pride, about Iowa and its education system, that education is the economic engine, the future of Iowa, and we're unwilling to provide the funding that we need,” Staed said.
Funding plan in the Senate
Senate Republicans also advanced their K-12 funding proposal on a party-line vote in a subcommittee, Senate Study Bill 2204 calls for a 2.25 percent general funding increase plus funds to help school districts with high transportation costs.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, said the funding level will make it harder for schools to limit class sizes, and hire and retain teachers and other educational staff.
“This means Iowa public schools will fall further behind,” Smith said. “They can only do so much without adequate funding.”
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