(The Center Square) — The Iowa House increased state aid for K-12 school districts on Thursday by 2.5% ($179 million) in its 57-39 vote for HF 2316.
The 2.5% growth rate provides an additional state aid (SSA) of $181 per student. The bill also increases the per-student cost of the regular fiscal year 2023 program per student by $5, regardless of SSA. State assistance for fiscal year 2023 from the general fund would total $3.58 billion, up from $172 million. The government cost per student would increase from $7,227 to $7,413, an increase of 2.57%. Under the bill, the incremental levy portion of the SCPP amount for fiscal year 2023 would be frozen at $685 per student, regardless of the per-student increase for fiscal year 2023.
Iowa House Democrats instead called for a $300 million increase, citing Gov. Kim Reynolds’ $300 million tax break to businesses paying corporate income tax, but their amendment calling for a $300 million increase in 5% state aid failed 38-57. An amendment to increase the SSA by $10 instead of $5, and an attempt to increase student funding for mental health and behavioral services were deemed irrelevant.
State Representative Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, proposed and withdrew an amendment to the bill that would withdraw the state budget increase if school district employees violate state distribution law of harsh pornography, the discouragement of racial stereotyping or the ban on requiring facial coverings.
“I’ve been a vocal ‘no’ to any education spending until we have a wide choice of schools – freedom of education all over Iowa. This has been my position since 2019,” Shipley told The Center Square in a text message statement.
He told the House Thursday regarding HF 2316, too many Iowans and students are “falling through the cracks” without necessary life skills, such as civics, despite increased school funding. He recalled his 2019 vote against equity funding for transportation because he believed there needed to be a greater focus on remote learning, which ended up being part of Iowa’s response to COVID-19. . He said his community has suffered from the shift to remote learning.
“It seems to me that we are still reacting to yesterday’s issues and really not spending the time and effort that we need to properly assess those issues. … When education is the majority of the state budget, when it affects the lives of Iowans so immensely, that really should be the majority of what we do here – really go deep and look at these things,” he said. “And I didn’t really see that.”
The House nearly unanimously passed a bill, HF 2315, that would allocate $19.2 million for fiscal year 2023 to public schools, based on the enrollment budget, which can be used up to the end of the following financial year. Funds can be used to employ para-educators, substitute teachers, bus drivers, and administrative and support staff due to labor shortages and other school district expenses that have increased due to inflation. Shipley was the only one to vote against.
State Rep. David Kerr, R-Morning Sun, responsible for the bill, said he thinks spending the credit would be at the discretion of school districts and that school districts would welcome the funding.
State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, said the money would be spent more efficiently by increasing the SSA because the funding is only added for one year and the premiums would be taxable “so it wouldn’t represent not much”.
State Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said the bill doesn’t do enough to support teachers.
“We don’t talk about the things that make it difficult to find these people,” Hall said. “It’s not just a question of dollars. It is also about what we are projecting here from the legislature.
The Senate Republicans’ tax plans include corporate tax cuts and they have proposed a 2.25% increase for school districts, or $163 per student, via SF 2204.
Senior legislative analyst Ron Robinson told The Center Square Friday by phone that while Iowa state law says Iowa lawmakers must reach an SSA agreement within the first 30 days of session, bills will move forward, though lawmakers will miss that deadline this year, as they have failed to do in recent years.