Iowa House and Senate split on school funding rate

Democrats, education advocates ask for more

By: - February 8, 2022 6:35 pm

A teacher explains test results to a student during a class. (Photo by Drazen Zigic/iStock-Getty Images Plus)

Republican leaders in the House and Senate moved ahead Tuesday with different proposals to increase Iowa education funding.

The State Supplemental Aid (SSA) number represents the amount of state funding allocated per student. In the first few weeks of each legislative session, lawmakers decide how much to increase the state’s per-pupil funding rate, growing the education budget overall.

This year, the Senate proposed a 2.25% increase to the SSA — lower than the 2.5% proposed by the House and Gov. Kim Reynolds. House lawmakers also moved a bill to allocate an additional $19.2 million to adjust for inflation, which is at about 7% nationally, and the workforce shortage.

Lawmakers will need to compromise on a growth rate soon to allow schools to budget for the upcoming school year. But the bartering should feel familiar: the school funding debate played out similarly in recent years, with the House and Reynolds aligned at 2.5% and the Senate coming in lower.

Governor and House propose 2.5% SSA increase, House adds extra for inflation

Both Reynolds and the House proposed a 2.5% growth rate for the 2022-2023 school year.

Reynolds told reporters a 2.5% increase was standard, calling it “a fair amount.” She said schools are “sitting on” $793 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds, which can be used over the next several years.

“Over the last decade, we’ve put over a billion dollars in K-12 education,” Reynolds said. “Public education is 56% of the state’s budget.”

The House proposed the same increase as Reynolds, 2.5%. But Rep. Cecil Dolecheck acknowledged Tuesday that many House Republicans wanted a higher overall increase, something around 3%.

“We did not have enough support in our caucus to be able to move to that figure at this point of time for SSA,” Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, said.

To make up the difference, House lawmakers proposed an additional $19.2 million to account for “the increased cost of employing para-educators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and administrative and support staff due to worker shortages.” The funds are also meant to offset higher costs due to inflation.

Education advocates registered in support of the additional funding, but they said it was still insufficient.

“This additional amount, when combined with the 2.5% SSA rate, is going to leave us really struggling just to meet inflationary costs (and) our increasing insurance costs,” said Emily Piper, representing the Iowa Association of School Boards.

Margaret Buckton, lobbyist for the Urban Education Network, said the funding would be better off as part of the SSA increase, rather than a separate appropriation.

“By having it be outside of the formula, it truly is one-time money for a one-time purpose, which is better than nothing” Buckton said. 

Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, ran a subcommittee meeting on the additional funding. He said House Study Bill 660 has “real potential” to pass the House, but he couldn’t say how the Senate would receive the legislation in negotiations.

The House passed the SSA proposal and additional funding through committees on Tuesday.

Senate proposes 2.25% SSA rate

The Senate moved a bill last week to increase per-pupil funding by 2.25%. Senate Education Committee Chair Amy Sinclair called the number “sustainable (and) reliable.” Sinclair, R-Allerton, estimated the bill would increase K-12 funding by about $150 million overall.

The Senate Appropriations Committee moved the bill on Tuesday, marking it eligible for debate on the Senate floor.

Sen. Claire Celsi, a Democrat, called on the committee to increase the SSA rate, noting that Iowa has a significant surplus to draw from. 

“Is this just the benign neglect of our schools? Or is it the active destruction of our schools?,” Celsi, D-West Des Moines, asked. “There’s evidence that this is active destruction taking place. And we’re all complicit sitting here today.”

Read more: Senate panel moves private school scholarships, parent bill of rights

Democrats, education advocates request more

Democratic leaders in the House and Senate proposed an alternative plan: a 5% SSA increase, representing a $300 million increase in funding for education.

Democrats compared the spending to a corporate tax cut proposed by the governor, which would eliminate $300 million in corporate income taxes over five years. The Democratic plan would front-load that loss, immediately committing the funds to schools.

“If Gov. Reynolds has $300 million to put toward another corporate tax cut, then there is room in our budget to invest $300 million in Iowa’s kids,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

Lobbyists for education groups also pressed for more SSA funding, citing hiring difficulties and inflation.

“We’re appreciative of the House being higher than the Senate,” said Phil Jeneary, lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “But given the state’s healthy budget and outlook, we just feel that that 2.5% does not deliver meaningful educational opportunities for all students.”

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie 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.