Emotional Debate over School Shootings: How to Pay for Emergency Plans

Mar 21, 2018

A school safety bill requiring all districts to be prepared for active shooters and other emergencies is making its way through the Iowa legislature, as lawmakers grapple with the tragedy of school shootings across the country.  

An eastern Iowa lawmaker was overcome with emotion during debate in the Iowa House. 

We owe it to the students of Iowa to protect them. -Rep. Cindy Winkler

Senate File 2364 passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month.   It requires each school district and private school to develop a high-quality emergency operations plan for the district and individual school buildings by June 30, 2019.

Rep. Cindy Winkler (D-Davenport) read a letter from a school administrator  outlining some of the expenses involved in making schools safe, including hiring resource officers, half-time security people, and an expert to monitor social media.

Winkler offered an amendment allowing schools to use so-called reserve funds to cover the cost. That could lead to higher property taxes.

“I know the connection between reserves and property taxes is onerous for many,” Winkler said, her voice breaking.   “But I am guessing a solid majority of citizens would be willing to let their reserve funds be used for measures to reduce the likelihood that we will have a tragedy in one of our schools.”  

Rep. Cindy Winkler at "the well" in the Iowa House, arguing for the germaneness of her amendment to let schools use reserve funds for security improvements.
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

Winkler reiterated special concerns about Davenport schools which receive lower per-pupil funding than other districts.  She said the district  has already closed two buildings, moved children, and increased the distance that busing is provided, but is still struggling financially.

“If we are serious about protecting our students, we must allow them to use their cash reserves for this purpose,” Winkler said.

On a party-line vote, the House rejected Winkler’s amendment on procedural grounds.

"I respectfully question the germaneness of this amendment," said Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City.)

The amendment was co-sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Thede (D-Bettendorf) and Rep. Monica Kurth (D-Davenport).

Debate on the bill was deferred in the House, pending additional amendments.  Another Democratic amendment would give schools more time to enact their security plans.