Iowa Lawmakers Begin Debating K-12 School Funding

Jan 29, 2020

Iowa lawmakers have started debating K-12 public school funding, with Republican leaders in the House and Senate proposing plans that differ by nearly $20 million.

Senate Republicans want to add $76 million in base public school funding, about the same increase as last year.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said it’s a reliable, sustainable amount of funding.

“This is an amount that we feel allows us enough money to continue to fund our other priorities as well—whether that’s state troopers, mental health, health care issues—we want to make sure that fits in the larger budget picture,” Whitver said.

House Republicans want to add $95 million in base per-student funding, which is also what Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds proposed.

The Senate proposal would amount to a 2.1 percent increase, and the House bill would amount to a 2.5 percent increase.

House Democrats are asking for a 3 percent, or $120 million, increase.

But Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said the public schools really need a lot more.

“The 2.5 percent should be the floor, the minimum of what we look at,” Smith said. “I don’t think it really digs our schools out of the hole—understanding that we’ve dug a trench, and we’re slowly filling it in a teaspoon at a time, and that’s not going to get us where we need to be.”

Smith added there could be room for more education funding if Republican leaders were not so focused on cutting taxes.

Some education groups say a funding increase of closer to 4 percent is required. Those advocates will have the chance to testify before lawmakers at hearings in the coming days, and Republican leaders will ultimately negotiate a school funding deal in the next couple of weeks.

Other school funding initiatives

House and Senate Republicans also have plans for giving more money to school districts that have disproportionate transportation costs, as well as districts that get less per-pupil funding.

Both proposed nearly $6 million to buy down per-student funding inequities by an additional $10 per student in the affected districts.

“We think it’s important that that inequity that’s just baked into our pie, it’s important we eliminate that,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton. “And I’d like to eliminate it more quickly than we have the last couple of years.”

The legislature bought the inequity down by $5 per student in each of the past two years.

Smith said upping that to $10 is an improvement. But he said lawmakers should also be looking at additional ways of fixing education inequities, especially for schools with high rates of students who get free and reduced lunch.

“We have students who are going to need additional resources just to have the same opportunity as their peers in another district who may be on a higher socioeconomic status,” Smith said.

House and Senate Republicans also proposed more than $7 million for transportation equity, but the House came in a little bit lower than the Senate.

Lawmakers are also expected to consider some additional funding to address violent behavior in schools.