Republicans continue to push education priorities, rush to prevent property tax increase
Almost a month into the 2023 legislative session, Republicans — who control both chambers of the Legislature — are continuing to push their education priorities. They’re also rushing to prevent a property tax increase as cities and counties worry about getting some certainty for their budgets.
Public school funding
This week, the Legislature is planning to finish up their work on K-12 public school funding. Republicans agreed on a 3% increase, or about $107 million, which would bring the total state aid for public schools to nearly $3.7 billion.
Democrats say that’s not enough to deal with the challenges schools are facing, and have proposed a 6% bump, but the GOP says their plan is sustainable for the state budget. It’s also the biggest percentage increase for school funding since 2015.
Republican leaders did not directly answer questions about whether they went with $107 million to try to get closer to the amount they’re planning to send to private schools next year through education savings accounts.
Gov. Kim Reynolds has pledged a continued push for public school transparency rules
The governor appeared at an event with the conservative group Moms for Liberty last week and talked about more plans she has for Iowa schools. She said she’ll introduce a bill focused on what she calls "school transparency."
Republicans have been vocal in the state about their desire to limit access to books they say are inappropriate for kids. Reynolds says under her bill, if a book is banned in one Iowa school district, students in all districts statewide would need to get a parent’s consent to see it. The current process allows local school boards to handle requests to remove certain books.
GOP lawmakers have been advancing other "parents' rights" bills, including some that would affect LGBTQ students. One would prohibit schools from including gender identity in K-8 curriculum and instruction. Another would require schools to get written consent from parents to affirm a transgender student’s gender identity.
Some transgender students and their families came to the statehouse last week to ask lawmakers to reject these bills, raising concerns about their mental health and the possibility these bills would expose them to more bullying and abuse. Republicans moved the bills forward, saying this is about protecting parents’ rights to have these discussions at home and to know what is going on with their kids.
The race to fix a mistaken property tax increase
While unclear how the mistake was made, lawmakers may have accidentally paved the way in 2021 for an unwanted residential property tax increase. They say a miscalculation by the Department of Revenue is to blame, but the department says it followed the law. The Senate passed a bill to prevent the increase. The decision has left city and county officials upset because they had already factored the increase into their local budgets, and now must scramble to adjust them.
House Speaker Pat Grassley says he’s not sure yet if the House will support the Senate’s bill. Democrats voted for it, but they also wanted the state to cover the shortfall in local budgets. Senate Republicans rejected that idea.
Meanwhile, though the GOP entered the 2023 legislative session with property tax reform as one of their top priorities, bills put out by the House and Senate are "vastly different" according to Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, and the two chambers are far from reaching any sort of agreement.
Public school funding will possibly be signed into law this week to meet the Legislature's 30-day deadline. Staffers are wading through a new 1,500-page bill from the governor that would reorganize state government.