House passes COVID-19 funding for schools based on in-person learning days

(Image by Anton Petrus /Getty)

A bill approved Thursday in the Iowa House would allocate an additional $27.2 million to school districts based on how many days of in-person learning they offered.

Under House File 532, school districts would look back on the 2020-2021 school year and count how many days students could attend in person. Then, funding would be divided proportionally, with more funds going to districts that offered more days of full, in-person learning.

The House amended the bill so schools that had disruptions due to the August derecho storm could claim those days for additional funding.

The House voted 71-26 to move the bill.

Republicans said the allocation formula was fair because schools operating in-person had more COVID-19-related expenses. Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, who led floor debate, said the bill was not meant to reward or punish districts for their choices, but rather to reflect the additional expenses that some districts experienced when they brought students back to the classroom.

“We all know in this room that kids in school is the best learning environment for the vast majority of our students in the state of Iowa, but that this year it took a little bit extra to get them in the room,” Hite said. “And that’s what this bill does: It helps with that extra cost.”

Democrats supported the derecho amendment, but many opposed the COVID-19 allocation formula that they said privileged some school districts over others. 

“We should not be penalizing students for the decisions that adults made in order to keep them safe,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. 

Democrats also argued that school districts were operating unaware of the fact that their decision to do hybrid learning would eventually cause them to receive  fewer funds.

“Had (school districts) been able to predict that, months later, we would change our expectation of them, we likely would have had a lot of school districts who would have required students to be there in person but not safe, because they’ve been deprived of resources for so long,” said Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo. 

But, Democrats conceded, there was one small relief: At least it was better than the Senate’s COVID-19 funding proposal, which would give additional money to every district except Des Moines Public Schools.

“The Senate’s bill goes to 326 public school districts and leaves out one,” Hite said. “Our bill goes to every single one of our 327 public school districts.”

How would additional funds be distributed under HF 532?

Each school district would receive a cut of the $27.2 million package based on how many in-person learning days they offered. 

A full day is a day when all students had the option to attend school in-person for at least six hours.

A half day is a day when students could attend in-person for between three and six hours or a day when more than half but fewer than all students could attend in-person.

Online learning days or hybrid learning days when fewer than half of students could attend in-person would not qualify for funding under the bill.

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.