House passes 2.5% school funding increase

Plan would increase funding by $186 for each student

By: - February 10, 2022 6:34 pm

The Iowa State Capitol. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

House lawmakers voted Thursday to approve a 2.5% increase to Iowa’s per-pupil education funding.

“My opinion is that 2.5% is a very healthy figure that our schools can live with and… it’s the best that they’ll do in several years,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr.

The 2.5% State Supplemental Aid (SSA) increase and an additional $5 per pupil would result in a state cost of $7,413 for each student, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. That’s an increase of $186 per student for the upcoming fiscal year.

Dolecheck said the package, House File 2316, would appropriate $178 million overall. 

The House passed the proposal largely along party lines, with 55 votes in favor and 39 votes against.

Lawmakers also passed House File 660, an additional school funding bill on a bipartisan basis, appropriating $19.2 million to address inflation and the workforce shortage. The funds may be used to employ para-educators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and administrative and support staff, and to offset higher costs due to inflation.

“I believe the supplemental $19.2 million, along with the SSA that we just passed and the additional district cost per pupil, with almost $2 million in transportation funding, will be welcomed by an overwhelming number of school districts across our state,” said Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun.

Democrats ask for 5% SSA increase

Democrats had a refrain during the House debate: We can afford more.

House Democrats proposed a major amendment to raise the per-pupil funding by 5%. Rep. Art Staed said schools had been underfunded for over a decade.

“Out schools have had to cope – cope as best they could — with the lower than actual cost of funding that’s resulted in staff reductions, the elimination of programs, course offerings to students, rises in class sizes for students and teachers, and salaries that have failed to keep up with comparable professions or alternative careers,” said Staed, D-Cedar Rapids.

He pointed to the record-high budget surplus and Taxpayer Relief Fund, which Republican lawmakers are using as the basis of another tax cut package. 

“For if not now, in the best years of our economic growth, then when?” asked Staed.

Dolecheck responded there was “no guarantee” that a 5% increase could solve some of the problems Democrats pointed to, like a teacher shortage or class sizes. He said over 43% of the state budget goes to K-12 education.

“This body has always placed education first,” Dolecheck said. “2.5% is a very good number.”

Democrats also proposed amendments to increase funding for mental health and student activities. Both failed on the floor.

What comes next?

House and Senate leaders need to reach a compromise on school funding. The Senate proposed a 2.25% increase to SSA with an additional $10 per pupil. Their proposal does not include the $19.2 million supplement.

Lawmakers are supposed to pass an SSA deal within the first 30 days of session. House Speaker Pat Grassley said he felt “pretty confident” the chambers would reach a deal.

“We want to keep this moving forward,” Grassley, R-New Hartford, said. “I think we’re having positive conversations about it.”

Negotiations in previous years have looked similar. In 2021, the House and Gov. Kim Reynolds both proposed a 2.5% SSA increase, and the Senate proposed a lower number.

— Kathie Obradovich contributed reporting.

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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.