A bill for public school funding is ready for floor debate in the Iowa Senate.
Republicans on the Senate Education Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday calling for general increases to the amount of money the state gives to schools, though that language was part of an amendment to the original bill. It passed 11-5, along party lines.
Originally, the school funding bill, Senate Study Bill 1081, called for 2% in State Supplemental Aid (SSA), which would have been a decrease from last year’s 2.5%.
Instead, SSB 1081 was amended to set the SSA at 3%.
“We’re aware of the situation within our public schools. Our public schools are great and we want to support them in every way we can,” said Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Fort Dodge). “But at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re continuing our conservative spending principles that we’ve been pretty much locked into the last six or seven years.”
The bill would also include millions for preschool funding, transportation funding, and categorical funding, which includes teacher supplement salaries, professional development, and early intervention programs.
There wasn’t much discussion on the bill other than Democratic committee members saying even 3% wasn’t an adequate number to fund schools, especially to help them keep up with inflation and enrollment changes.
“Over the last six years, inflation cumulatively has been 23.1% but the increase in the state cost per pupil has only been 11.9%. So we’re more than 11% behind inflation over the last six years. 3% doesn’t fix the problem,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames).
He said the per-pupil amount is $742 behind where it should be if inflation was accounted for, but that it paled to the amount the state is behind for students with special needs.
“For the highest level need we’re not $742 behind this year, we’re $2,775 behind for those special needs kids,” Quirmbach said. “And those are the kids the vouchers won’t help because those are the kids that the prep schools won’t take.”
Democratic members pointed out the state does have the money to allocate more to public schools because of the recently passed school voucher program which would make every public school student eligible to receive $7,598 from the state in order to enroll in private schools.
“It’s ridiculous that we are all sitting here today pretending that this is a real bill. It’s just not. If Governor Reynolds is going to be serious about funding public schools, now would be the time to prove it,” said Claire Celsi (D-Des Moines).
Most Democrats said they’d reserve further comments for floor debate.
Melissa Peterson from the Iowa State Education Association spoke at the subcommittee portion of the meeting and said they would prefer a minimum 4% increase but would strive to make 3% work.
“We know Iowa has been doing a great job with the resources that this body has provided, but we think we can do better,” she said. “We know we already have great results on the NAEP test scores, for example. We know we still have among the best graduation rates in our country. We still outperform most states on the ACT and the SAT.”
But she said Iowa has faced increasing problems in attracting and retaining professionals including teachers, aides and paraeducators. Part of that is because the consistent 2% rate has led to Iowa being 40th in the nation for per-pupil expenditures.
“Please think about increasing that investment that we think the overall state budget can withstand,” Peterson said. “It will enable us to reduce our class sizes, to maintain, if not expand, program opportunities for our students, and also to make sure that we can have the best retain the best staff possible.”
No lobbyists were registered in support of the bill.
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