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Legislature Sends School Funding Bill To Gov. Reynolds

Iowa Capitol building
John Pemble

The Iowa House and Senate have settled on a 2.4 percent increase in funding for PreK-12 schools next year. Republicans say it provides reliable funding growth, but Democrats say it’s too little to cover increasing costs.

The annual school funding bill, passed Wednesday by the Senate (SF 269), would add $36.5 million in base state funding for schools. That's smaller dollar increase than last year’s $86 million because of a drop in enrollment of nearly 6,000 students statewide during the pandemic.

The loss of students recorded in the fall also means that 137 school districts — about 40 percent of districts statewide — would experience a drop in state support, even though most students are expected to return for the 2021-22 school year.

Those districts would be allowed to collect $26 million in additional property taxes to make up for lost state funding through a process for schools with declining enrollment known as the budget guarantee. That more than triples the amount of budget guarantee funding for school districts last year.

Senate Democrats said a larger increase in state aid would prevent the increase in local property taxes but Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, said that could put future state funding growth into question.

“This is a solid funding bill that sets our schools on a predictable, reliable, fundable path into the future,” said Sinclair who has said the bill also takes steps to reduce reliance on local property taxes for school funding.

A drop in enrollment also affects funding for preschools. Support for the state’s voluntary preschool program would decrease by $7.4 million according to a fiscal note prepared by the Legislative Services Agency.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said that means many schools will be short of the resources they need if student numbers recover as expected next year.

“It’s nice that the per-pupil cost is going to be raised a little bit to cover inflation, but the schools are still going to be cut in real terms,” Quirmbach said. “They’re not going to have the dollars they need to service the students who will be coming through the doors in August and September.”

Sinclair said Republicans in the House and Senate are negotiating a one-time funding package for schools to address the impact COVID-19 has had on expenses and enrollment. Both chambers have proposed plans worth around $30 million, but they differ on how to allocate the money.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa