Iowa GOP plan to add $32 million for schools advances

School districts also would get more spending flexibility

The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The Iowa State House cupola on Thur. Mar 11, 2016. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Legislative Republicans formed a united front Thursday in pushing for a $32 million boost in state funding for K-12 schools, but also pledging to find other avenues to aid schools by easing transportation costs, extending construction options and providing more spending flexibility.

Minority Democrats, however, charged the GOP plan was “shortchanging kids” with funding that would not keep pace with inflation at a time Iowa is struggling to maintain its place as a national leader in educating kids and preparing them for high-skill jobs of the future.

“We are not doing what our kids deserve,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, ranking member of the Senate Education Committee before a 9-6 party-line vote Thursday.

Republicans on a Senate panel that approved the 1 percent hike in state supplemental aid for fiscal 2019 said the increase is more than local school officials were expecting. And it recognizes the budget challenges facing the state by carving out K-12 education as a priority even though the increase is small.

“The whole state right now is in a situation where we have to give,” said Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, noting that many families are experiencing lower earnings, thus paying fewer taxes then expected. “We need to be realistic about this. We’re trying to do the best that we can to help our community schools out.”

Currently, the K-12 per-pupil cost statewide if $6,664, according to the Legislative Services Agency. The proposed 1 percent increase would boost that by $67 to $6,731 per pupil in fiscal 2019 and bring the total state spending to $3.21 billion.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said Republicans where setting a funding level that was sustainable and “makes a promise that we actually can keep.” Majority Republicans in the House and Senate planned to pass the 1 percent increase next week and send it to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk before the statutory deadline to act by Feb. 8.

The proposed $32 million boost in state aid by legislative Republicans was less than the $54 million, or 1.5 percent increase, that Reynolds sought in her Condition of the State address and also less than the 1.1 percent increase last year that came to $40 million.

“This is all a part of the process,” said Reynolds’ spokeswoman Brenna Smith. “The governor will work with the House and the Senate to ensure we continue our efforts to increase funding for K-12 education.”

The Senate action came one day after House Republicans forwarded a 1 percent state aid bill to their debate calendar. They also unveiled details of a plan they hoped to pass this session that would address transportation funding inequities with a $10 million commitment in fiscal 2019 and extend — possibly to 2049 — an existing statewide one-penny sales tax benefiting school construction projects that is set to expire in 2029.

“Our commitment to K-12 education is solid,” said House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, who noted the House approach also was designed to give local districts more flexibility in managing their funds. “We’re really proud of our track record.”

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