GOP School Aid Proposal Sparks Bitter Partisan Debate

Jan 31, 2017

Democrats in the Iowa Senate delayed action for six hours yesterday on a bill setting basic state school aid for next year, trying to stop what they say will severely underfund K-12 education.

Republicans in the House and Senate propose just over one-percent increase for schools.  

We believe it is the appropriate amount

School officials have said they need at least four percent to avoid larger class sizes or layoffs.

The bill is on the fast track, clearing committees in both chambers yesterday, and now headed for votes in the House and Senate as early as this week.  

Democrats argued they were asked to vote on  a bill without knowing how their local districts would be affected.

“What will this mean for rural schools.  Is it going to mean more consolidation?” asked Sen. Tod Bowman (D-Maquoqeta).   “Is it going to mean closings?  Is it going to mean more busing?”

What will this mean for rural schools?

The increase will amount to about $40 million for schools or about $78 per student.  

Republicans say schools will still get a large percentage of all new spending next year.

"We believe it's the appropriate amount that we can afford this year," said Rep. Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), chair of the House Education Committee.

Governor Branstad’s budget includes a two percent increase for K-12 schools or roughly twice what the GOP bill includes.

School advocates argue the increase would put most districts under what’s known as the school budget guarantee, meaning they would raise property taxes to compensate.   

State law requires the legislature to set basic school aid in the first 30 days of the legislative session.

“I mean I know we have timelines and we have  to get this out but we can’t do this without public input,” Bowman said.  “And if it’s the intent of the general assembly to rush this through on Thursday that is a disgrace.”

“There’s a whole long list of things that we need to know before we can proceed,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), ranking minority member on the Senate  Education Committee.