Republicans in the Iowa House have endorsed a plan that would freeze general state support of public schools for the next two years.
The G.O.P. plan also would provide $47 million worth of tax relief to property owners in 277 school districts. Without that injection of state money, property taxes will rise in districts with declining student enrollment. Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Columbus Junction, touted the move.
“For the first time in several years we have a bill before us that actually accepts the responsibility that this state has in protecting the property tax payer,” Sands said.
Representative Josh Byrnes, a Republican from Osage, said property owners deserve a break. “Over the last few years property taxpayers have seen large increases,” Byrnes said, “and this bill would help ease that burden and slow the rate of these increases.”
Representative Dave Jacoby, a Democrat from Coralville, said Republicans can’t claim to be cutting taxes with this maneuver.
“It’s nothing more than a tax shift. We’re still expending taxpayer dollars. We’re moving it from the left pocket to the right pocket,” Jacoby said. “Instead of coming out of property taxes — and we need to hold property taxes level, no increases — but what this does is it creates a shell game and it takes it out of personal income taxes.”
The other part of the education spending proposal Republicans are advancing provides no increase in general state assistance to Iowa schools for the next two academic years. Representative Nate Willems, a Democrat from Lisbon, said that means average teacher pay in Iowa will continue to decline when compared to other states.
“I know for a certainty that zero percent will take us backwards. Zero percent makes it easier for school districts in California, Colorado, Wisconsin and elsewhere to come in, hire away our best young teachers,” Willems said during debate.
Representative Cindy Winckler, a Democrat from Davenport, said Republicans are guilty of a “charade” when they say the state can’t afford to spend more on schools.
“Today you’re telling our kids that they’re not your highest priority,” Winckler said during House debate. “In fact, you put property owners over kids.”
Representative Greg Forristall, a Republican from Macedonia, responded to the Democrats.
“Many states across the country are actually cutting the funds that go to education in the K-12 schools. We’re not cutting it. We’re going to keep it at the same level that we had it last year,” Forristall said during debate. “…Maintaining our spending in education and not cutting teacher pay underscores our committment to education in Iowa. Again, many states are making drastic cuts throughout the education field. We are maintaining our committment to education in Iowa.”
Governor Branstad favors the spending plan his fellow Republicans are pushing in the legislature, while Democrats in the Senate propose a two percent increase in general state aid. It would amount to about $65 million more for K-12 public schools in the next academic year.