Iowa legislature at odds over K-12 funding after Senate makes changes to bill

The Iowa House chamber debated a K-12 spending plan for over two hours Wednesday. Democrats lament that a one percent increase in funding is not enough, while Republicans say it shows their commitment to K-12 education, holding it harmless from budget cuts. (Caroline Cummings)

The Iowa House approved $32 million in state supplemental aid for K-12 schools across the state Wednesday, but the Senate approved the plan with an amendment a few hours later, leaving the chambers at odds over funding.

The Senate approved the House K-12 bill totaling $32 million with an amendment addressing some inequities like school transportation costs, making the total funding amount $46 million. House Republicans say they have plans to tackle those problems, but those plans will come in other legislation.

The House debate lasted over two hours with Democrats lamenting that $32 million in new money for schools—a one percent increase—is not adequate funding for schools. Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, proposed an amendment boosting that number to three percent, though that was voted down and the Republican version advanced.

“One percent doesn’t even hit inflation for these schools. It’s going backwards," Steckman said. Steckman, a retired teacher, says she's spoken to school districts across the state that could make cuts to staff and other programs because the money is inadequate.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, said that they were limited to one percent within the constraints of the budget. Republicans tout holding K-12 education harmless from budget cuts as a sign of their continued commitment to Iowa's public schools.

“We’ve put $735 million into education over the last 8 years. That’s fourth best in the country," said Rep Walt Rogers, R-Waterloo, who is chair of the House Education Committee.

Republicans say $32 million in new money—coupled with their other plans to extend the SAVE Fund, which provides money for school infrastructure projects, and a transportation fund giving $10 million in FY2019 to "buy down" school districts with high transportation costs—is a step in the right direction.

“We’re doing good things. We are not only putting money towards it but we’re allowing schools to use the dollars they already have in a more flexible way," Rogers said.

Some Democrats disagree, saying the funding is insufficient and hinders schools in more rural parts of the state.

“We are adding to the decay of rural Iowa by not making the proper investments into our public education system," said Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City.

In her budget proposal, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds suggested a 1.5 percent increase in education funding.

The Senate version, or the bill with the amendment, now has to go back to the House for a vote before it can go to the governor's desk for signature.

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