Capital Clicks

Iowa Senate passes 3% funding increase for public schools

By: - February 2, 2023 4:42 pm

Republican lawmakers said they hope to finalize public education funding by Feb. 10, to give school districts enough time to finalize their budgets. (Stock image via Canva)

The Iowa Senate voted Thursday to give K-12 public schools a 3% raise in per-pupil state aid for fiscal year 2024, providing an increase of nearly $107 million over the current budget year.

Republican leaders say they plan to finalize public education funding by Feb. 10. Senate File 192 passed on a voted of 34-15.

The Senate originally brought forward a 2% increase State Supplemental Aid, but raised it to 3% to match House Republicans’ legislation. While it’s above Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposed 2.5% increase, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said legislators have been discussing SSA for four weeks, and reached that percentage based on their understanding of the state and schools’ budgets, as well as recent inflation.

“Obviously it’s key to get that done within the first 30 days of session,” Whitver told reporters. “And so, (we) really wanted to kind of continue the conversation, get agreement with the House and get it down to the governor.”

Iowa law requires the Legislature to approve per-pupil aid for schools within the first 30 days of session.

Democrats offered an amendment to increase school aid to $267 million, or a 5.9% funding increase, saying more money is needed to make up ground after years of underfunding public schools.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the Legislature would have more money to put toward Iowa public schools if Republicans had not passed the governor’s private school scholarship program, which Reynolds signed into law late January. The program is estimated to cost $106.9 million in the upcoming fiscal year. That money, and funds he said are going toward “corporate tax cuts” could be used to offer competitive teacher salaries and meet rising costs of bussing and building maintenance.

“We need to meet the needs of all of our kids, not just the privileged few with the private schools but all of our public schools,” Quirmbach said.

He said a 5.9% increase “doesn’t get us back all the way to where we need to go from six years of neglect, but at least gets us back one year.”

The amendment failed 17-32. Two other Democratic amendments, to increase funding for special needs services and create a weighting mechanism providing more per-pupil funding for low-income students, also failed.

Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, said Republicans are keeping their promises to Iowans by increasing state funding to public schools while maintaining “sustainable” policies.

“I’ll start with the word conservative, with no apology,” Rozenboom said. “We have conservative budgeting practices, and Iowans in increasing numbers send us back to the House and to the Senate. So yes, this reflects our fiscal policies and our conservatism.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley said he expects the House will approve the 3% increase early next week, giving school districts time to finalize their own budgets.

“We thought that that was a very, very solid number to be able to show support for our public school systems, and try to get that done within the timeline,” Grassley said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.