Democrats seek boost in education funding
DES MOINES (AP) — Democrats who hold the majority in the Iowa Senate gave preliminary approval Monday to legislation that would boost state education funding by more than $220 million for the 2015-2016 school year, but the Republican governor and the GOP-controlled House have shown little interest in considering the measures this session.
The bills were approved at the subcommittee level in the state Senate and will move to the full education committee later this week.
Under state law, the General Assembly is supposed to establish funding for elementary and secondary education over a year in advance, though Republicans have not always followed that rule in recent years.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said school districts need this funding information early so that they can plan accordingly. Funding has already been set for the 2014-2015 school year.
“We need to make sure there is stability there,” said Quirmbach, who chairs the Senate education committee.
Democrats want to provide an additional $222.5 million in state funding for the 2015-2016 school year. Per pupil spending would increase by 6 percent, going to $6,748, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. As part of the plan, this increase would be funded by the state, not by a hike in property taxes.
It isn’t clear the measures will advance in the Republican-controlled state House. House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said last week he expects to take up funding for the 2015-2016 school year next session. He said he wanted to know more about the available tax revenues before making any commitments.
“We’re not going back to the days when [Democratic former] Gov. Culver was making all kinds of promises and then turning around and doing across the board cuts,” Paulsen said.
Gov. Terry Branstad agreed with that approach Monday, calling the rule “outmoded.”
“There is not adequate funding in there to increase spending in schools,” Branstad said.
Melissa Peterson, a government relationship specialist with the Iowa State Education Association, which represents about 34,000 teachers, support staff and other educators, said before the hearing that schools need to know funding plans in advance so they can manage their budgets.
“All we’re asking for is that all lawmakers follow the law and give school districts predictability,” Peterson said. “Last year, we had a number of teachers that received pink slips because the school districts could not guarantee they’d have enough money.”