Democrats and Republicans are quibbling over how much state tax money to send Iowa’s public schools for the school year that begins in the fall of 2007. By law, the Iowa Legislature is to set that level of general state aid to schools sometime before February 9th. Teachers, school administrators, school board members and the state P-T-A are calling for a six percent increase, which would amount to about 150-million dollars. The 25 Democrats in the Senate say that’s what they’ll vote for.
Senator Roger Stewart, a Democrat from Preston, says supporting education is a “non-partisan” issue. “Both Democrats and Republicans are concerned about Iowa schools,” Stewart says. “Both Democrats and Republicans are urging that we make a significant investment in time and money to improve educational opportunity.” Senator Daryll Beall, a Democrat from Fort Dodge, agrees.
“Our route to a high-skill, high-wage economic future depends on the quality of our schools,” Beall says. “We must be able to assure new and expanding businesses that Iowa’s commitment to education is second to none.” Senate Republican Leader Stewart Iverson of Clarion is upset because he believes six percent is too much, but many Republicans won’t be able to vote no.
“I’m not going to tell my members to vote against it so it becomes a campaign tool,” Iverson says. Iverson says committing that much to K-through-12 schools will punch a huge hole in the state budget. Iverson says Democrats are “playing games” and being irresponsible. “Where’s the money tree? Where’s all the taxes (Democrats) are going to vote to increase to pay for all this?” Iverson asks.
Senate Co-President Jeff Lamberti, a Republican from Ankeny, says his concern is the money decision is coming before policy decisions. “Where’s the discussion of reforms? ” Lamberti asks. “Where’s the discussion about improving education in this state?”
But Senator Amanda Ragan, a Democrat from Mason City, says a six percent increase in basic school funding is only a first step. “We are working to rebuild and restore damage to education caused by several lean budget years,” Ragan says. Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque, says it’s time for legislators to “turn up the fire” and spend more on schools. Connolly says Iowa spends less, per pupil, than its five neighboring states. “Often far less,” Connolly says. Iowa ranks 36th in the nation in per-pupil spending.