Iowa GOP hones in on 1 percent increase for schools

But Republican miss their own legal deadline for approval

Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls
Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls

DES MOINES — Establish state funding levels for public schools now; address inequities in the education funding formula later.

That was the message lawmakers in the Iowa House sent Thursday across the Iowa Capitol to their colleagues in the Senate, as Republicans in command of both chambers continued their work on setting public school funding for the 2018-2019 school year.

As the proposals continued to ping-pong, legislators missed the deadline they themselves wrote into law a year ago requiring that K-12 school funding be set within the first 30 days of the legislative session.

In the House, “we did our job,” Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, chairman of the House Education Committee, said with a shrug.

Republicans in both chambers agreed to raise school funding over the current year by 1 percent, which would mean more than $3.2 billion in statewide funding — or about $32 million more.

The chambers have not agreed how to address inequities in the funding formula. Some districts have higher transportation costs, which means they have a smaller share of funds to spend in classrooms than other districts. And some districts are able to spend more per student than others.

On Wednesday, the Senate attached to the school funding bill its plan for addressing the transportation costs.

On Thursday, the House rejected that plan.


House leaders said they prefer to address the inequities in separate bill. Regardless, they said, the Senate plan does not appropriately tackle the issues.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, who leads the House education budget committee, said the Senate proposal addresses a “very much needed concern” and pledged the House would offer its proposal in legislation next week. He said the House plan would prioritize funding for districts with the largest transportation costs.

“I give you my word we will address this issue,” Dolecheck said, adding that he has been working on the transportation funding issue for 20 years. “I’m excited we’re at the point we can get something done.”

Although she respected his word, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, called the Senate proposal a “bird in the hand” for Democrats who have been pushing to address transportation costs, especially for large rural districts, as well as the per-pupil inequity issue.

“I’d rather have this one than the promise we’ll do something next week,” she said.

Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, also found it “troubling that when given an opportunity, that we can’t have a proposal that is acceptable.”

However, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said she respected the effort Dolecheck and others were making by working on Senate File 455 to solve those issues.

“The dilemma we are in is whether or not what is promised to us today will actually come before us on the floor of the House,” Winckler said.


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House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, wondered why the House and Senate Republicans hadn’t worked out their differences before bringing the funding bill to the floor.

The House voted 57-37 to defeat the Senate-amended version of the school funding bill. Thirty-six Democrats and Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-Dewitt, voted for it. Winckler joined 56 Republicans to defeat it.

That sends the school funding bill back to the Senate, which adjourned Thursday for the weekend before considering the updated version.

Because the House rejected the Senate plan that included the transportation funding, the Senate must approve the new plan without the transportation funding before sending the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her approval.

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