DES MOINES — Education groups on Thursday welcomed legislative interest in boosting financial resources for schools and giving teachers more protections if they physically restrain students who are disrupting their classroom.
However, representatives for teachers, parents, urban and rural schools and others joined minority Democrats in telling Republicans who control the Legislature that they were not offering enough new funding to cover inflationary costs, especially given the state budget’s current surplus.
“Please invest more in my kids while you have the money,” said Louisa Dykstra, a Windsor Heights mother and a member of Parents for Great Iowa Schools in urging a Senate Education Committee to spend more than the 2.1 percent increase in supplemental state aid supported by Senate Republicans.
“This is timely, but it’s not adequate,” added Dave Daughton of Rural School Advocates of Iowa.
Subcommittees in the House and Senate, however, each voted 2-1 to proceed with their initial proposals for boosting the state’s investment in K-12 education that are below the requests of 3 percent to 3.75 percent posed by speakers during Thursday’s meetings.
“I feel comfortable where we’re at,” said Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, in advocating for a Senate approach that he called appropriate and at a level the state could sustain while trying to meet the many and varied needs that government must address.
Legislative Republicans have competing plans to increase state aid for Iowa’s 327 public K-12 school districts — the House Republicans stands at a 2.5 percent base level addition while the Senate would raise state funding by 2.1 percent for the school year that begins July 1.
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Republicans in both chambers also are proposing to increase funds by $7.65 million to address inequities in transportation costs — particularly rural districts that face outsized expenses in running school buses — and covering an extra $10 per pupil (or $5.8 million) to address property tax inequities that persist decades after Iowa changed its school funding formula.
Senate Republicans want to add nearly $2.5 million to provide resources for schools dealing with disruptive classroom situations.
Overall, House Republicans are proposing a K-12 education funding increase of about $107.8 million and Senate Republicans are offering a $91.65 million increase. Earlier this month, Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed a $101.2 million funding package increase that called for a 2.5 percent boost in state foundation school aid.
The current base state cost per pupil under Iowa’s K-12 foundation funding formula is $6,880.
A 2.1 percent increase would bring that to $7,024, or $144 more, and a 2.5 percent increase would result in $7,052 — an increase of $172 per student, according to the Legislative Services Agency.
In all, the state’s general fund currently devotes about $3.3 billion to K-12 education.
Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said he expected the House Education Committee he chairs to take action of K-12 funding next week, and GOP leaders have vowed to finalize an agreement and send it to the governor’s desk by the Feb. 13 statutory deadline.
Meanwhile Thursday, a separate Senate Education subcommittee gave initial approval to a multifaceted bill aimed at mitigating and rehabilitating behavioral disruptions through the use of “therapeutic classrooms” in response to increased reports of classroom violence.
Along with offering specialized spaces in school districts with smaller class sizes and more individualized attention, Senate Study Bill 3080 provides guidelines for actions school employees can take to address violent student behavior. It also provides funding for standardized training and employee protections from disciplinary action by a school.
“This is about creating a safe school environment where all kids can learn and grow in the place that suits them best. This is about school safety, it’s about supporting our teachers, our staff and our students in what helps them the most,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, subcommittee chair for the bill.
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“When I’ve talked to teachers, they are afraid — they’re afraid physically, they’re afraid for their jobs and they are afraid of lawsuits, and so we need to make a circle around teachers and let them know their fears are being heard and we are trying to help address them.”
Under Iowa law, corporal punishment is prohibited, but there are provisions that allow school employees to have physical contact with a student if it is “reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.”
The proposed law provides that school employees also may physically touch a student if they are “relocating” someone to defuse a disruptive situation, and it enhances protections for those employees in situations where a student is moved or restrained in the course of protecting others.
The bill now moves to the full Senate Education Committee for consideration.
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