IOWA LEGISLATURE

Iowa school funding bill on its way to governor

Measure includes 2.4 percent increase, but 137 districts will see less state aid

The Senate chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
The Senate chambers in the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A $36.5 million increase in state supplemental aid for Iowa’s 327 K-12 public school districts next year is on its way to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk for her expected signature.

Republicans who control the Iowa Senate voted 31-18 Wednesday to approve a 2.4 percent increase in state funding.

The measure includes money to address equity and transportation issues that will boost per-pupil funding by $179 to $7,227 for fiscal 2022.

The state this fiscal year provided $3.381 billion on elementary and secondary schools, or $7,048 per pupil in state supplemental aid to help cover instructional costs.

“This is a solid funding bill that sets our schools on a predictable, reliable, fundable path into the future,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and floor manager for Senate File 269.

Minority Democrats opposed the bill because declining school enrollments — resulting from parents keeping nearly 7,000 young children home out of COVID-19 safety concerns — means the new funding level won’t cover about $71 million that will be needed when those kids return this fall.

The bill, they said, represents a $7.5 million cut to preschools.

“The schools are going to be cut in real terms,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames. “We need to do a better job.”

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Under the bill, 137 Iowa school districts will receive less state funding than they did this year, meaning they will have to rely on a “budget guarantee” that supplements lower state aid with local property taxes in those districts.

Democrats argued the state has a budget surplus and can afford to provide more K-12 funding so property taxpayers don’t have to shoulder the cost.

They unsuccessfully called on newly elected GOP senators to join them in trying to restore the projected cut to preschools that could eliminate up to 2,500 slots.

“It’s OK to say I didn’t run to cut preschool education,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. “This is your gut-check moment right now. Let’s fix it now.”

Sinclair said Republicans in the House and Senate removed some separate K-12 funding issues dealing with costs for districts associated with providing in-person instruction during the pandemic. Those issues, she said, continue to be negotiated, and she expects the preschool issue would be addressed in that separate funding measure.

“We are going to fix it, but we’re not going to fix it in this bill,” she said.

Senate Republicans initially proposed a 2.2 percent boost in base state aid while House Republicans sided with the governor at 2.5 percent, before both legislative branches agreed on 2.4 percent level.

“This bill does not cut education spending. Look at the bottom line. It just simply doesn’t,” Sinclair told her Senate colleagues. “It is unfortunate that indeed some people chose not to be in school this year and that does indicate a decline.”

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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