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Iowa House Approves COVID Money For Schools

Iowa's Capitol.
John Pemble
IPR file
The one-time money would be available to all school districts, though those that had the most in-person learning would receive the greatest share.

The Iowa House has passed a $27.2 million funding package for schools to cover costs associated with holding classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The one-time money would be available to all districts this school year, and comes on top of a 2.4 percent increase in annual funding for next school year. But Democrats and Republicans debated how the pandemic-related funding should be distributed.

Under the bill (HF 532), which passed on a 71-25 vote, schools that spent the most time in-person would receive the largest share of funding. Schools with the most hybrid and virtual learning days would receive the least.

There is an exception for districts where classes were interrupted by the summer derecho. School districts, such as Cedar Rapids, that delayed the start of the year or held classes online because buildings were damaged by the storm would be funded as though students were in-person.

Republicans said the bill is meant to help pay for additional expenses that come with having students in school face-to-face during the pandemic, such as additional staffing, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. But Democrats said the proposal ignores the additional technology, staffing and cleaning costs that come with hybrid and remote learning.

“Some districts will get more money because they were 100 percent in person,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City. “So yes, there are winners and losers in this bill, and the losers will be the students.”

Rep. Cindy Winckler , D-Davenport, said state guidelines allowed schools to change learning models based on community spread of the coronavirus. She said it’s unfair for districts to receive less because they used hybrid or remote learning to protect students and teachers.

“School districts followed the rules,” said Winckler, who tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill so that the money would be distributed per-student. “Attendance is attendance. Expenditures are expenditures whether or not (students) were remote, in-person every other day or in-person on a daily basis."

Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, said the funding should be based on in-person learning because it’s the best learning option for most students.

“Kids in school is the best learning environment for the vast majority of students in the state of Iowa, but this year it took a little bit extra to get them in the room,” said Hite, who chairs the House Education Committee. “And that’s what this bill does. It helps with that extra cost.”

Hite criticized a federal relief package passed earlier this year for allocating $310 million to Iowa school districts based on the amount of Title 1 funding they receive for low-income students. He said that approach resulted in outsized payments to districts such as Des Moines and Davenport which received $41.1 million and $21.5 million respectively.

House Republicans originally proposed $30 million in COVID-funding for schools. Hite said the decrease to $27 million is part of negotiations with Senate Republicans over school funding.

The COVID-relief bill now goes to the Senate.

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa