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House GOP proposes $12 million workforce scholarships, no general funding increase for universities

 House Speaker Pat Grassley and Rep. David Kerr speak to reporters at the Iowa Capitol.
Katarina Sostaric
House Speaker Pat Grassley and Rep. David Kerr announced a new proposed scholarship program at the Iowa Capitol Monday.

House Republicans are proposing a new $12 million workforce scholarship program at Iowa’s three public universities, but they’re not planning a general budget increase for the universities.

The $12 million would go to students majoring in high-demand career fields across Iowa’s three public universities: Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa, and the University of Iowa. GOP leaders say the proposal is aimed at alleviating the state’s workforce shortage.

Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, chairs the House education budget subcommittee.

“I also think it’ll be a great recruiting tool here in Iowa for each of the regent universities to attract students, and they need students because the enrollments are decreasing,” Kerr said. “But I think this is a great plan that they’ll jump on board with.”

Half the money would go to people studying to become teachers. The other half would go to students in other high-demand career fields as determined by Iowa Workforce Development.

Students would qualify in their last two years of college. Those that stay and work in Iowa for a year after graduating could get up to a total of $10,000.

“The Board is very appreciative of the legislative proposal to provide additional financial aid to Regent students, and we look forward to continuing to work with the General Assembly to support Iowa’s public universities,” Board of Regents spokesperson Josh Lehman said in an emailed statement.

In 2020, the Iowa Legislature cut the public universities’ budget by $8 million. It declined to restore that funding in 2021. After that, the Board of Regents raised tuition.

House Republicans are not proposing a general budget increase for Iowa’s public universities this year, even as the Board of Regents requested an additional $22 million and the state has a large budget surplus.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was asked why they won't increase university funding.

“We have a workforce shortage,” Grassley said. “That number has continued to grow. And I think it’s time for us to really take account of what we’re doing and where our state’s investments are going to address that.”

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said Tuesday that GOP leaders are refusing to raise university funding for the third year in a row.

“We all know we’re paying more at the gas tanks. We’re paying more at the grocery store," Cahill said. "Our universities have the same issues. For us to have the highest quality programs for our students, we need to provide them with some opportunities to increase and improve their programs as well.”

It’s not yet clear if the Senate and the governor will support this proposal.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said Democrats have been talking about a holistic approach to fixing the workforce shortage since the beginning of the legislative session.

“While we look forward to seeing more details, we know this proposal won’t make up for the divisive agenda Republicans have pursued this year that makes Iowa unwelcoming to young people, shifts money from public schools to private schools, and puts teachers in jail,” Konfrst said.

The bill that proposed criminal penalties for teachers who share obscene materials with students appears to be dead for this legislative session.

This story was updated Tuesday, March 22, at 3:17 p.m.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter