Iowa Senate passes school funding bill calling for 2.2% increase

Iowa Capitol Dome
The dome of the Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Iowa Senate passed a school funding proposal Tuesday evening that would increase supplemental state aid by 2.2% for the 2021-2022 school year.

In addition to setting a 2.2% growth rate, Senate File 269 would provide additional funding for transportation equity between districts and for schools that complied with state COVID-19 reopening guidelines.

“This bill is responsible. It is sustainable. It is reasonable and it is equitable,” said  Senate Education Committee chair Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton.

The Senate passed the bill 32-17, with just one Democrat, Sen. Tony Bisignano of Des Moines, voting in favor.

Democrats try to raise growth rate, get extra COVID-19 money to Des Moines Public Schools

Senate File 269 would increase the state’s contributions to public schools, known as “state supplemental aid,” by 2.2% for the 2021-2022 school year.

The increase amounts to an additional $155 dollars per pupil. The Senate also included an extra $15 per student separate from the growth rate. This year, the state’s per-pupil contribution was $7,048, according to a fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Senate Democrats proposed an amendment Tuesday which would raise the growth rate to 3.75%, arguing that public schools had been underfunded for several years and needed the additional funds to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. That would be an increase of $264 per student.

Sinclair said that a 3.75% growth rate would cost the state an additional $200 million next year. This did not sway Democrats.

“If we would have funded public education at the level it should have been funded for the last four years since you folks have been in charge, we would have given them an extra $297 million,” Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said.

The amendment failed 31-18.

“Had we passed the 3.75% and the pandemic raged even harder and our economy tanked again, we would not be able to cover that this year or next year, and then you would see real cuts to education,” Sinclair said.

Democrats also asked the Senate to strike a section that would provide additional per-pupil funds to districts that followed state orders for in-person instruction during the pandmic. The provision that Democrats sought to remove effectively blocks Des Moines Public Schools from the additional money. That amendment failed 31-18.

Another COVID-19 wrench in the plan could be imprecise enrollment numbers. Enrollment fell during the pandemic, which might skew the per-pupil contributions lower than usual. Therefore, several districts may see a smaller increase in state funding, even if many of their students re-enroll for the 2021 school year. 

Democrats warned that could force some districts to increase local property taxes to make up the difference.

Meanwhile in the House ….

The House Education committee considered two similar school funding bills on Monday. One would restrict additional COVID-19 funds based on the number of in-person learning days a district offered. The other House bill proposed a 2.5% growth rate for the upcoming school year, matching Gov. Kim Reynolds’ budget proposal. 

A similar scene played out in the 2020 legislative session: the House proposed a 2.5% increase, aligned with Reynolds, and the Senate proposed 2.1%. The groups compromised at a 2.3% increase for the 2020-2021 school year.