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Iowa House Passes K-12 Education Funding Package; Democrats Say It's Not Enough

Jimmy Emerson/flickr

The Iowa House of Representatives passed a K-12 education package Monday evening that increases funding to public schools by nearly $90 million for the school year starting in the fall.

The first measure House lawmakers considered offered a 2.06 percent increase to per-student funding.

This budget…does not fulfill all the wants that are out there,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck (R-Mount Ayr), who chairs the House Education Committee. “No budget usually does. But it funds the needs that are out there to allow our schools to continue providing high quality education.”

Democrats said a 2.06 percent, or $78.6 million increase for base funding, is not enough.

“I work in the Cedar Rapids Community School District, and I personally see the impact of the low funding in the schools,” Rep. Tracy Ehlert (D-Cedar Rapids) said. “It affects the students, the teachers, the facilities, and the overall morale. Equipment and textbooks are outdated. The classroom sizes are growing.”

Rep. Ras Smith (D-Waterloo) offered an amendment to increase per-student funding by 3 percent, but it failed to pass the Republican-controlled chamber.

Some Democrats also said Republicans didn’t ask for their input when deciding on the 2.06 percent increase. The increase passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting for it.

Republicans have called the increases to school funding in the past few years an "historic investment" in education. Democrats and some school advocates, though, have said the increases don't keep up with rising costs, so many school districts have been cutting budgets in recent years.

House lawmakers were nearly unanimous in their support for the second part of the funding package. It aims to reduce inequities between school districts in transportation costs and per-student funding.

“This is a great bill to help our rural schools offset their higher transportation costs,” Rep. Tedd Gassman (R-Scarville) said. “There was only one way to help pay for those higher transport costs before and that was to take the money straight out of the classroom.”

It establishes a $19 million transportation equity fund for the next school year, which will increase by the percentage set by the legislature for education funding each year. It also puts $2.9 million toward per-student equity issues.

Rep. Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City) said lawmakers still need to work on a permanent plan to get rid of the per-student funding gap faster, which in some districts will still be as much as $165.

“We need to keep pushing the ball down the field,” Mascher said. “Those districts are getting less dollars, and it’s really having an impact on them.”

The Iowa Senate and the governor have yet to approve the funding package.