DES MOINES — Majority Republicans approved a $985 million education budget Tuesday they said would adequately meet needs in a fiscally responsible way while critics warned it would cost college students more in tuition at a time the state could afford to spend more.
The Iowa Senate, on a 32-18 party-line vote, approved a $40 million funding increase for fiscal 2020 that was part of compromise negotiated with Iowa House Republicans over a budget area covering regent universities, community and private colleges and skilled worker programs.
Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, called House File 758 “a good bill” that would provide significant increases for the regent universities and community colleges, help finance a new children’s mental health system and fund Future Ready, STEM education and other priorities sought by Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Included is a $12 million boost for the Board of Regents to $575.4 million. This is below the $18 million increase sought by Reynolds; but community colleges would receive $207 million — a $4.7 million hike that matches her request.
“We tried to be as fair as we could with the money that we had available in our target,” said Kraayenbrink. “We knew that we couldn’t fund everything to the ask of what everybody wanted, but yet we wanted to be fair and offer them something that could be sustainable in our budget.”
However, minority Democrats argued the GOP bill was shortchanging public and private colleges and universities in Iowa at a time when the state could afford to spend more for private tuition grants and university appropriations.
“We’re well within our budget capabilities,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who was among the Democrats pushing for a larger boost in regents’ funding and an extra $3 million for tuition grants, given that the overall GOP budget was below the spending limitation with a $190 million ending balance. “We owe them a little bit more.”
At her weekly news conference earlier Tuesday, Reynolds said the GOP compromise budget would “not necessarily” result in higher tuition at regent universities, noting that dual-enrollment classes for high-school students and other state efforts are helping control the costs of education for students and their families.
“There are a lot of things that we’re doing that not only will help keep the cost of education down, but will also let students know that there are many paths to great careers and those careers are right here in the state of Iowa,” she said.
The funding legislation likely will land on Reynolds’ desk later this week — allowing the regents to finally set tuition rates for next school year.
The board until recently would approve tuition rates for the next school year in the previous fall — giving prospective students nearly a year to prepare.
But recent midyear cuts and state de-appropriations that forced the board to go back and increase rates after setting them a first time prompted current board leadership to wait this year until lawmakers had ironed out decisions.
If approved by the governor, the lesser amount will mean higher tuition costs for students, according to a multiyear tuition plan the board aired in November.
The board declined Tuesday to comment on the appropriations bill, but board President Michael Richards last week said: “If the state partially funds the appropriations request, the base resident undergraduate rate will be somewhat within the range of 3 to 5 percent” for the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.
The University of Northern Iowa looks different under the tuition plan because it has a smaller student body, a larger percentage of residential students who pay lower rates and regional competitors that don’t charge as much as the UI and ISU peers.
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UNI President Mark Nook has said residential undergraduate rates there would be frozen if lawmakers fully fund the regents’ request. The board has not said how much, if at all, UNI rates will increase if the request is partially funded.