The Iowa Senate has passed three bills which would increase school budgets by tens of millions of dollars and provide about $55 million in property tax relief.
One of the bills would increase general state taxpayer support of K-12 public schools by $240 per student. Republicans like Senator Joni Ernst of Red Oak objected, saying lawmakers should pass education reform first, then decide how much money schools should get.
“Let’s take time. Let’s not be premature,” she said. “Let’s not get the cart ahead of the horse.”
Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames, responded.
“I don’t, really, quite know what to say,” Quirmbach said, just before yelling: “We’re violating the law by a year — and yet you still say we’re premature.”
According to state law, the level of general state aid for schools is supposed to be set 18 months before the school year starts, but Republican Governor Terry Branstad and Republicans in the legislature last year decided to skirt that law and Iowa schools don’t yet know how much state aid they’ll get for the school year that begins July 1,2013.
Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, said lawmakers need to focus on more than just the dollars.
“I want to give more money to schools than we did last year, but I want to make sure that they’re accountable for those dollars, that we have a good plan in place,” Chelgren said. “To simply put money there with no expectations that the school systems in Iowa will be improved is irresponsible.”
Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, said Iowa’s per-student spending is about a thousand dollars below the national average, and the Democrats’ proposed four percent increase is a “modest” first step.
“If you want world-class schools for all of the kids in Iowa, you’ve got to pay for it,” Hogg said. “We’ve got to quit doing this education on the cheap. It doesn’t work.”
Democrats and Republicans in the senate also voted for another proposal that would take 55-million out of the state’s “Taxpayer Trust Fund” to ensure property taxes paid to schools don’t go up along with the increase in general state support. However, before a final vote on the measure, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to substitute their own plan to use the state budget surplus to give every Iowa adult who pays income taxes a $375 tax credit.