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Reynolds signs 3% school funding increase into law
Largest increase since 2015; teachers union says it’s not enough
DES MOINES — Iowa K-12 schools will get a 3 percent funding boost under a bill Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law on Tuesday — slightly more than what the governor asked for, but less than what schools were seeking.
When taking to account funding reductions lawmakers are expected to make later to Iowa’s Area Education Associations, the new law provides a $106.8 million boost to Iowa’s public K-12 schools.
The amount is higher than the 2.5 percent increase Reynolds proposed at the beginning of the session. But it is less than the 4 percent the Iowa State Education Association had been lobbying for.
The bill, Senate File 192, passed the House 59-40, with four Republicans breaking with the majority party to vote against the measure. All Democrats voted no and one Republican, Rep. David Sieck of Glenwood, did not vote.
Reps. Chad Ingels of Randalia, Megan Jones of Sioux Rapids, Brian Lohse of Bondurant and Thomas Moore of Griswold were the House Republicans who voted against the bill.
The bill passed in the Senate last week mostly along party lines, making it eligible for Reynolds’ signature. She signed the bill into law Tuesday in private.
"This results in a $1.19 billion increase in K-12 education funding since 2012," Reynolds said in a statement. "This investment represents our commitment to an excellent education system for all Iowans."
Rep. Craig Johnson, a Republican from Independence, said he was happy with the funding provided and noted lawmakers had increased school funding by around $700 million over the past seven years, after Republicans took full control of the Legislature.
“Being predictable with what we do here in Iowa is important to us,” he said. “This bill will do that. Being affordable, we’re going to afford this again this year, and next year, and the year after that.”
Democrats protested the funding in floor debate Tuesday, saying the proposal was not enough to keep up with inflation and prevent loss of programs and school consolidation. Democrats proposed an amendment that would bump up the funding increase to 5.8 percent. That amendment failed 39-60.
“I know when we were passing and talking about the voucher bill we had plenty of money, and now all of a sudden this has to fit in our budget,” complained Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City. “Our half a million kids need to fit in our budget.”
Republican lawmakers in January passed a bill, which Reynolds signed into law in a public ceremony, that allows parents to take advantage of taxpayer-funded education savings accounts, valued at the state’s full per-pupil allocation, to pay for a private school education. The program is estimated to cost $106.9 million in its first year and $345 million a year once fully implemented.
The ISEA, the union representing public school teachers, ridiculed the decision to spend millions on private schools while increasing the state aid to public schools by 3 percent.
“It is smoke and mirrors for them to claim our public schools are receiving more funding than ever before,” union President Mike Beranek said in a statement. “Public school funding has not kept up with the rising cost of inflation for 12 of the last 13 years … Inflation coupled with fixed costs means that no matter the ebb and flow of a student population, our schools need more funding to provide a robust and healthy student environment.”
Democrats in floor debate brought up comments and conversations with school administrators who said their budgets were stretched thin and needed additional state funding. Rep. Sue Cahill, a Democrat from Marshalltown, said one superintendent was concerned about the rising cost of fuel and other fixed costs that aren’t flexible year-over-year.
“He was at his wit’s end,” she said. “He said, ‘How will we go on in our small school district?’ … Our rural communities and our urban communities are hurting. They have stretched and stretched for the last few years.”
Over the last decade, funding for Iowa’s K-12 public schools has increased by a little over 2 percent on average each year. A 3 percent increase is the highest increase in school funding since 2015.
The funding equates to a per-pupil cost for the next school year of $7,635, a $222 increase from the 2022-2023 school year. The bill also includes a 3 percent boost for categorical funds like the teacher leadership supplement and transportation equity.