DES MOINES — Iowa’s K-12 public schools would get a 3% increase in per-pupil state funding for the next school year under proposals from the Republican majorities in the House and Senate — larger than the increase sought by the governor but smaller than what Democrats wanted.
The Iowa Senate approved the funding proposal Thursday. The House will consider the proposal next week; Republicans there also are supporting a 3% increase.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed budget, published in January, included a 2.5% increase in per pupil K-12 public school funding. Republican legislative leaders said they have not discussed the increased funding level with Reynolds, and her office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The proposed legislation allocates $3.7 billion in general funding to Iowa’s 327 K-12 public school districts, an increase of nearly $124 million over the current year, according to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
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Iowa’s total state general fund budget for the current budget year is roughly $8.2 billion.
“I’ll start with the word conservative, with no apology. We have a conservative budgeting policy, and people in increasing numbers sent us back to the Iowa House and Senate,” said Sen. Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa who chairs the Senate’s education committee. “This reflects our conservatism. This is sustainable.”
Rep. Pat Grassley, the House speaker from New Hartford, said House Republicans also will support a 3% public school funding increase.
“We know that’s something that works in the budget,” Grassley told reporters Thursday. “We thought that that was a very, very solid number to be able to show support for our public school systems.”
Earlier this session, statehouse Republicans approved a new program that, at full implementation in four years, will each year make roughly $7,600 in state-funded private school aid available for any K-12 student in Iowa. The program is projected to cost the state $345 million annually.
Democrats in the Senate this week proposed a public school funding increase of roughly 6%, which would amount to an additional $267 million. Democrats said that equals what Republicans have proposed for the new private school financial aid program this year plus a reduction in corporate income taxes approved last year.
Democrats pitched their proposal as an amendment to Republicans’ bill; it was defeated mostly along party lines, with Republican Sen. Charlie McClintock, of Alburnett, voting with Democrats.
“Shortchanging Iowa’s public schools is shortchanging the future of Iowa’s kids. That’s the inescapable truth,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, of Ames, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee and a former Iowa State University professor. “We’re proposing a different set of priorities. … Our priorities and our obligations are to the public school students of Iowa.”
Since Republicans regained at least partial control of the state lawmaking process in 2011, state general funding for public K-12 schools has increased by an average of 1.9% annually. Over the previous 38 years, under the current state school funding formula, that funding increased by an average of 5% annually, according to the legislative agency’s data.
The 3% increase proposed by legislative Republicans would be the second-largest increase since 2011, trailing only the 4% increase implemented for the 2014-2015 school year, according to the data.
Democrats argue the lower rates of annual funding increases over the past decade-plus have not kept up with inflation, creating fiscal challenges for school districts.
In addition to their proposed 6% increase in per pupil funding, Democrats also pitched amendments that would fund all-day, 4-year-old preschool in all districts, funding boosts for special education programs and per pupil funding for low-income students. All were defeated on party-line votes.
Similarly, the final vote on Senate File 192 was a party-line vote, 34-15, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing.