The Iowa House approved a 3% increase in state per-pupil aid for K-12 public schools and sent it to the governor's desk on Feb. 7, 2023. (Photo via Canva)
Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a 3% increase in state money for Iowa’s K-12 public school into law Tuesday.
Education has dominated the Iowa’s 2023 legislative session. Reynolds’ private school scholarship program was signed into law in January.
Democrats, including Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, argued Tuesday that Republicans were sidelining public school students with the 3% increase to State Supplemental Aid after passing the Educational Savings Account program into law with no spending limits.
“I feel what we’re giving now are the dregs, the leftovers, what we can absorb in our budget,” Cahill said. “Yet our budget was wide open when we voted on the ESA bill. There was no limit, there was no cap on that budget and we didn’t even know how many students would take advantage of it.”
The Iowa House passed the public school funding bill, Senate File 192, on a 59-40 vote Tuesday morning, meeting the legal requirement to approve state per-pupil school funding within the first 30 days of the legislative session.
The chambers agreed in early February on the 3% raise to State Supplemental Aid, which amounts to about $107 million more for Iowa’s public schools in the 2024 fiscal year. The growth amounts to an increase of $222 per student in Iowa schools, resulting in a total $7,635 per public school student.
“This results in a $1.19 billion increase in K-12 education funding since 2012,” Reynolds said in a news release. “This investment represents our commitment to an excellent education system for all Iowans.”
Representatives voted down two Democratic amendments to raise the increase to 5.85%, and to add $10 in per-pupil funding for districts that are currently at a lower cost per student.
Democrats said their 5.85% proposed increase, which would give public schools roughly $267 million more, is the minimum amount needed to help school districts address growing costs and current shortfalls. But Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, said the Legislature has increased school funding for the seven years he has served in Iowa. The 3% increase is a boost to schools while maintaining a responsible budget.
“I would like to say that being predictable with what we do here in Iowa is important to us,” Johnson said. “This bill will do that (while) being affordable. We’re going to afford this again this year, and next year, and the year after that. The important thing to me right now is that we’re gonna do this on time.”
Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said the 3% increase does not address recent inflation or the effects of lawmakers underfunding Iowa’s public schools for over a decade.
“Setting Supplemental State Aid below the level that will address the needs of more than 92% of Iowa’s students is wrong,” Beranek said in a statement. “It is smoke and mirrors for them to claim our public schools are receiving more funding than ever before. Public school funding has not kept up with the rising cost of inflation for 12 of the last 13 years.”
The cost of the governor’s ESA program also will rise with the 3% public school funding growth. The program sets aside funds equal to the amount of SSA per-pupil funding, in an account for students to use on private school tuition and associated costs. When it was approved, the private school scholarship program was calculated to put $7,598 in students’ accounts each year. That fund will grow to $7,635 if the governor signs the proposed SSA increase.
Democrats and public school advocates decried the ESA program’s cost, estimated at nearly $1 billion over the first four years. But House Speaker Pat Grassley said ESA funding does not take away from public school funding, which is estimated to reach $15.2 billion in the same period. He said Republicans’ responsible budgeting practices mean Iowa can afford spending more on both public schools and the ESA program.
“It’s going to be more for both, but putting us at a record level of investment we’ve ever made in education,” Grassley told reporters Feb. 2.
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