Iowa homeowners aren’t the only ones fearing the high cost of winter heating. School districts are planning for increases of up to 70-percent in their costs to pay for utilities.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin today is introducing what he calls the School Energy Crisis Relief Act. Harkin says it would authorize the U.S. Energy Secretary to award emergency grants to the poorest school districts in each state.

Harkin says more than 60 school districts in Iowa would be eligible for the grants, which are based on the percentage and number of students who qualify for Title One assistance. He says larger districts like Des Moines, Sioux City, Cedar Rapids and Waterloo would all qualify, as well as many smaller, rural districts which also face higher transportation costs.

The Iowa Association of School Boards estimates that this winter, there will be a 40-million dollar shortfall statewide in funding for school heating. He says higher transportation costs for school buses will widen the gap another eight-million dollars. Harkin says every dollar that has to go toward utility and fuel costs comes at the expense of classrooms and instructional quality.

Harkin says Charles City school leaders expect to spend 140-thousand dollars more on fuel this winter, enough to pay four teachers’ salaries. Some districts are lowering thermostats to 60-degrees, like in Ottumwa, where parents are being told to send their kids to school with coats so they can keep warm indoors. He says “This is not acceptable.”

Harkin’s introducing another bill today that would ensure all new gasoline-powered motor vehicles sold in the U.S. are capable of using fuel blends of up to 85-percent ethanol, or E-85, within a decade. Harkin says only two-percent of American cars are now flex-fuel vehicles, “that means drivers are paying the price at the pump for our addiction to foreign oil.” He says with E-85 being much cheaper, families nationwide could save hundreds of dollars a year just by using more corn-based ethanol. Iowa is the nation’s leading producer of ethanol.