Iowa Senate passes 1.11 percent hike for K-12 schools

New state money totals $40 million for 333 districts

Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Community School District buses at the Education Leadership Support Center in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, August 7, 2014. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa’s 333 public school districts would receive an extra $40 million in state supplemental aid for the fiscal year that begins July 1 under legislation approved Thursday by the Republican-run Iowa Senate.

Overall, funding for each student enrolled in K-12 public schools would increase by $73 to $6,664 under the 1.11 percent increase included in Senate File 166, with overall state general fund spending on education approaching $3.2 billion next school year.

The education funding bill won the support of 28 Republicans but was opposed by 20 Democrats and independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan. It now goes to the Iowa House for likely approval next week.

“Senate File 166 gives a clear signal that we’re committed to providing responsible and sustainable funding for local school districts,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, the bill’s floor manager. “This bill makes a promise to local schools that can be kept and is the first step towards meeting our obligations to set school aid in a timely manner.”

Senate File 166 also would aid “categorical” funding to help reduce class sizes, increase teacher salaries and pay for early intervention programs by 1.11 percent and provide a $5.3 million boost in property tax replacement money.

Under the proposed GOP funding level, more than half — about 54 percent — of Iowa’s school districts would be under the state’s budget guarantee, a safeguard for schools dealing with declining enrollments that provides for 1 percent funding growth using local property taxes.

Republicans also used the bill as a vehicle to scrap the state’s forward-funding law that mandates the Legislature and governor set state supplemental aid to schools more than one year in advance — a requirement that lawmakers have regularly violated recently, including now.

The new standard will be that the Legislature sets the level of supplemental aid to schools within 30 days of receiving the governor’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year only.

“The method of the past has placed Iowa schools in a number of difficult situations,” Sinclair said. “Requiring supplemental state aid to be established before there are even revenue estimates is irresponsible. This has caused the Legislature to over promise and under deliver a number of times in the past and this bill establishes our goal to stop this irresponsible and destructive practice.”

Republican legislators calculated they have about $200 million in new state revenue to spend in the fiscal 2018 budget, said Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Minority Democrats tried unsuccessfully to persuade majority Republicans to boost the K-12 funding level to the governor’s proposed 2 percent increase in state aid for each of the next two fiscal years.

In his two-year budget plan outlined last month, Branstad recommended increasing K-12 funding by $78.8 million next fiscal year and $63.5 million in fiscal 2019. He also asked the Legislature to set both fiscal years’ state aid increases for schools in the first 30 days of the session that began Jan. 9.

“Frankly, as far as I’m concerned it ought to be 4 percent,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who noted school administrators have indicated they expect to increase class sizes, layoff teachers, cut back on supplies and reduce offerings. Democrats also warned the state funding level could trigger more school consolidations.

Quirmbach called 2 percent a bipartisan compromise offer that was at least better than a 1.11 percent increase that he called “paltry” and “unworthy.” The proposal lost by a 28-21 vote.

Education “is not a priority, not at 1.11 percent,” Johnson said during a floor speech. “I am ashamed of being here tonight.”

Sinclair said she expected GOP legislators would consider ways to provide more flexibility and equity for schools as part of a comprehensive look at school reform as the session unfolds, but she added “funding for schools cannot be set in a vacuum because it represents such a large portion of the state’s overall budget. We must take the complete budget in account.”

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