IOWA LEGISLATURE

Senate passes 2.1 percent increase in education funding

Still at odds with governor, House Republicans seeking 2.5 percent

Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, at a recording of Iowa Public Television's #x201c;Iowa Press#x201d; in 201
Iowa Senate President Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, at a recording of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” in 2018. (James Q. Lynch/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Majority Senate Republicans pushed ahead Monday with their plan to increase base state aid for K-12 public schools by 2.1 percent next fiscal year — a position that put them at odds with Gov. Kim Reynolds, House Republicans and legislative Democrats.

Senators voted 31-17 along party lines to approve Senate File 2142, a bill that will provide foundational state funding for Iowa’s 327 school districts effective July 1. The Senate level was lower than the 2.5 percent recommended by the governor and supported by House Republicans — who planned to take up their version Tuesday.

“We’re still working on two different numbers. In the Senate Republican caucus, we want to make sure that whatever amount of money we give is predictable, it’s reliable and it’s sustainable money,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny. “We’re going to fully fund every single dollar that we have promised.”

Whitver said the Republicans in the two chambers are about $15 million apart. Whatever they decide on K-12 funding as the first priority passed during the 2020 session will affect how much state revenue can be committed to other fiscal 2021 budget areas.

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee and floor manager of SF 2142, said the bill demonstrates that “kids are front and center for this caucus.” But Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, called the funding level “inadequate” for the needs of Iowa’s classrooms.

Sen. Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, offered an amendment seeking to raise the supplemental state aid increase to 3 percent, but that was turned back by a 31-17 party-line vote.

Quirmbach noted the state has a projected surplus of $408.1 million for fiscal 2021, and could afford up to 4.5 percent and still have an ample ending balance.

“It’s not a matter of resources. This is a matter of priorities,” he said.

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Sinclair called that “fake news” because Iowa schools still have the highest graduation rates, score well in national testing and are regarded among the best in the nation.

Also Monday, senators voted 48-0 on a separate K-12 bill to increase funds by $7.65 million to address inequities in transportation costs — particularly in rural districts that face outsized expenses in running school buses. The bill also provides an extra $10 per pupil (or $5.8 million) to address property tax inequities that persist decades after Iowa changed its school funding formula.

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. Reynolds, in her Condition of the State speech last month, proposed a $101.2 million funding package increase that called for a 2.5 percent boost in state school aid.

The current base state cost per pupil under Iowa’s K-12 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.

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

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