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Iowa House Passes School Funding Compromise

Iowa’s Capitol on a cold, snowy afternoon.
John Pemble
IPR file
The percentage increase in school aid would be about the same as last year, but the dollar increase would be smaller because the pandemic has led to decreased enrollment statewide.

Republicans in the Iowa House and Senate have reached an agreement to increase state aid to K-12 public schools by 2.4 percent, or about $36.5 million.

The Iowa House passed an amended Senate bill (SF 269) Thursday that would increase state aid for schools by 2.4 percent. That rate would be a near repeat of last year’s 2.3 percent increase in supplemental state aid. However, because of a drop in enrollment by nearly 6,000 students statewide during the pandemic, the dollar increase would be about $50 million smaller.

“Maybe classrooms were a little smaller this year because of less students. Hopefully those teachers are still there,” Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said during floor debate in the House on Thursday. “We felt that this was a figure that we could live with within a budget and would give school districts some certainty.”

Democrats said the increase is too small to keep up with cost increases and that school resources will be stretched thin if student numbers bounce back next year as expected.

Dolecheck said GOP leaders landed on 2.4 percent as a compromise between the 2.2 percent increase passed in the Senate this week and 2.5 percent growth proposed earlier in the House and by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

At 2.4 percent, an estimated 137 school districts would see a drop in state aid and could collect extra property taxes to make up for it. Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, argued lawmakers should draw from a budget surplus to keep that from happening.

“We have chosen to underfund schools,” Cahill said. “This will result in higher property taxes to our struggling families, our seniors, our small businesses.”

The Senate bill included nearly $30 million of COVID-relief money for cleaning and staffing expenses that excluded Des Moines Public Schools based on the district’s violation of state return-to-learn rules. The House removed that provision from the bill passed Thursday.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa