The Iowa Senate has approved a bill many small schools call a “giant step” toward giving them money to fix up and build schools. The bill changes the state law that allows county voters to raise the local sales tax a penny to finance school improvements. Critics say it rewards schools in “retail rich” areas, while schools in predominantly rural areas get none of the money. The bill that cleared the Senate would have the state collect all local option sales taxes and distribute the money on a per pupil basis. School construction plans tied to existing local option sales taxes would not be affected, but once the 10-year duration of those sales tax plans expires, voters would have to decide if they continue and the new money raised would go into the state fund. Senator Jeff Angelo, a republican from Creston, says the bill erases an inequity. Angelo says in the end, the school children of Iowa are the winners. Others, like Senator Keith Kreiman, a democrat from Bloomfield, reluctantly supported the legislation.Kreiman says the bill’s just “one smidge, maybe a smidge and a half” better than the current system. But Senator Steve Warnstadt, a democrat from Sioux City, says the bill will not solve the underlying problem because rich schools will still get a per pupil allotment that’s equal to what poor schools will get. Warnstadt says he’s not about “comforting the comfortable but addressing the needs of the needy.” Senator Jack Hatch, a democrat from Des Moines, was a “no” vote, too. Hatch says rural areas complained about paying sales taxes in Polk County to benefit Des Moines-area schools, yet the bill perpetuates the same philosophy by asking Polk County to start sending its taxes to rural areas to support rural schools. He says when the Polk County tax expires, then the rural schools will want Polk County to put its money into a fund to pay for their schools, something he says those rural schools now call unfair.
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