Iowa House lawmakers send bill increasing teacher pay to Senate

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By Guest Post

March 8, 2024

The Iowa House passed a measure increasing teacher and school staff pay Thursday as the fate of top education policies lawmakers are pursuing this session remain uncertain.

House File 2611 passed 92-1 Thursday, with only Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, voting against the measure. The bill would raise teachers’ starting salary to $47,500 in year one and to $50,000 in the second year of implementation. The proposal also would increase minimum pay for paraeducators and other school staff receiving an hourly wage to $15 per hour.

The bill also provides $22 million in state funding dedicated toward supplementing teacher salaries for experienced and quality teachers, and $14 million to help schools meet the $15 per hour pay requirement for education support personnel.

The bill’s floor manager, Rep. Bill Gustoff, R-Des Moines, thanked his House colleagues and education advocates for their work crafting the bill, celebrating the “Kumbaya moment” of passing legislation with near-unanimous support.

“This is a good bill that checks a lot of boxes, reflects the input of many stakeholders and many policymakers, brings parties together and showcases that the legislative process does work,” Gustoff said.

Teacher pay linked with AEA debate

The teacher pay discussion was started by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, included as a component of her proposal to change Area Education Agencies. The House did not approve the governor’s bill, but did pass its own legislation on AEAs, House File 2630, in late February. The House AEA bill requires AEAs continue to provide special education services while allowing for school districts to contract with other parties for general education and media services. The governor’s bill would have allowed school districts to work with private providers or hire their own workers for all three service categories.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said the House’s teacher compensation proposal was a good way to address the issue of educator pay “in a non-political manner” by separating it from AEA discussions.

“This is something that Iowa Democrats have been fighting for for years,” Cahill said. “Raising salary and pay for our educational employees is a very good bill.”

The Senate had an amended version of the governor’s AEA bill, Senate File 2386, on the debate schedule for Tuesday, but it was not taken up. The Senate did not debate Wednesday or Thursday. This bill includes a teacher pay requirement, lowered from Reynolds’ $50,000 first year starting salary proposal to a $46,251 minimum.

Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum said in a news conference Thursday that Senate Republicans are in “disarray” over AEA and school funding proposals, saying that it’s unclear when or if the Senate will debate the proposal as the governor has “put a lot of pressure” on GOP senators to advance the measure.

Senate has yet to pass per-pupil spending increase

Jochum also linked the stalled debate on AEAs to the Senate not taking up legislation on the per-pupil state aid for Iowa K-12 schools. While House lawmakers passed a 3% State Supplemental Aid rate for the upcoming school year, Senate lawmakers did not set a SSA rate in the bill moved through the committee process earlier in the session. Reynolds proposed a 2.5% increase in her January budget proposal.

Lawmakers missed a self-imposed deadline to pass school state aid nearly a month ago. Jochum said the continued delay in passing SSA is putting school districts in a precarious situation: School districts are required to have their budget proposals done by March 15.

“I’m not sure how school districts are to get a budget put together when they still don’t know how much funding the state of Iowa is even going to be providing to educate each student in the state,” Jochum said. “And of course, that also will dictate their property tax levy. So I’m not sure how they’re going to do it, but by law, they have to have it submitted and certified.”

The teacher pay bill was amended to include a provision pushing back schools’ budgeting deadline for the 2024-2025 school year. While the measure may help schools this year if approved, House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said in the news conference that passing school funding as early as possible should be the focus.

This year, kids are delayed in finding out who their teachers will be for the upcoming year, she said, and teachers are not sure if their contracts will be renewed.

“They’re flying blind because Republicans can’t get their stuff together,” Konfrst said. “So they can lose the deadline all they want, but they’re still not doing what Iowa schools need, which is giving them the information they need in time to set a budget that’s right for kids.”

Speaking on the floor, Konfrst said she was pleased House lawmakers were able to send a bipartisan message to senators and the governor about the importance of increased pay for teachers, paraeducators and other school staff “in a way that is non-politicized, that is independent and that is good for Iowa kids.”

“Right now, here’s an opportunity to show everyone else that the House has the right idea in mind, we’re leading and this is important work,” Konfrst said.

Story by Robin Opsahl of Iowa Capital Dispatch:

Headline changed by Iowa Starting Line.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: [email protected]. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

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