House passes $36.5 million increase for Iowa schools

Des Moines East High School graduates attend commencement in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines Public Schools)

The Iowa House passed a school funding bill Thursday night that would increase state supplemental aid by 2.4% and provide more funding for school transportation.

Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said the bill would allocate an additional $36.5 million to schools in the 2021-2022 academic year. The bill contributes an estimated $768,000 to help districts with higher-than-average transportation costs, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

“There are a lot of us in this chamber, on both sides of the aisle, who would like to have a little bit more,” Dolecheck said. “Given the budget constraints that we were put with … we felt that this was a figure that we could live with within a budget to give school districts some certainty.”

The House’s version of Senate File 269 differs from the bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday. The growth rate of 2.4% is higher than the Senate’s proposed 2.2%. However, the increase is less than the 2.5% proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The House’s bill also removes a section that would provide additional COVID-19 aid funding to every district that complied with state reopening orders.

However, a separate bill, House Study Bill 184, would allocate an additional $30 million to schools based on the number of in-person days of instruction. That bill was passed by the House Education Committee on Monday. House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters Thursday that including the money in a separate bill was a procedural preference that does not necessarily signal a lack of support for the provision.

The amended Senate File 269 passed the House by a vote of 55-36, moving it back to the Senate for consideration of the changes. The progress comes too late to comply with state law requiring the Legislature to approve school aid within the first 30 days of the legislative session, which expired this week. Lawmakers face no consequences for missing the deadline, however. 

House Democrats brought many the same concerns as their colleagues in the Senate: that the growth rate was not high enough and that the proposal would cause property tax increases in districts across the state.

“What I want to make crystal clear is that the bill you have presented … will cause 137 school districts in Iowa over 42% of the school districts to raise property taxes to make up the difference in funding from just last year,” Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, said. 

Dolecheck acknowledged that the bill would trigger the budget guarantee in 137 districts, but he emphasized the constraints of the overall state budget. 

“This is a package that hopefully can move forward very quickly, get supplemental state aid out there to our school districts so they know where they’re at,” he said. “We’ll continue to work on additional pieces.”

Katie Akin
Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.