Senate Democrats are proposing a six percent increase in general state taxpayer support of public K-through-12 schools for the academic year that begins in the fall of 2015.

Education groups praise the plan because it follows the state law that says legislators are to make this school financing decision a year and a half before the school year starts. Margaret Buckton is a lobbyist for the Urban Education Network, which represents the 19 largest Iowa school districts which are educating about 40 percent of the state’s pre-K-through-12 students.

“We’ve gone through several tough years,” Buckton said this afternoon. “We’ve cut lots of programs that we know are good for students. It’s time for us to reverse that trend…It’s time to say that education’s the priority.”

Buckton spoke at a senate subcommittee hearing Monday afternoon. Tom Lane, a lobbyist for the Area Education Agencies, stressed that the state of Iowa is currently spending $1500 less per pupil than the national average.

“Being world class cannot be done on the cheap,” Lane said. “And six percent is a wonderful effort in starting to get us back to better equity with our competition not just worldwide, but certainly here in our own country.”

Richard Wortmann, a science teacher in Ottumwa, was among those who expressed concern that if legislators put this decision off ’til next year, that funding decision won’t be made before schools have to certify their budgets in mid-April.

“I’m a department chair in my building and have a little bit of influence in hiring new staff members,” Wortmann said. “If the budget is not decided in a timely manner or for an adequate amount, it’s really hard to try to get the best and brightest teachers or adequate replacements.”

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement told Democrats they were pleased with the increase in state support of schools, but they questioned whether the state can afford it.  Barb Lang of Des Moines, a retired school teacher, is a CCI member.

“How can we support sustained, continuous quality education if Governor Brnastad’s corporate property tax is stealing Iowa’s money?” she asked.

Last year, legislators and Branstad passed the largest tax cut in Iowa history, reducing commercial property taxes by 10 percent over the next two years — but promising the state would forward money to local governments to cover lost tax revenue. Branstad this morning told reporters “there isn’t” room in his state budget plan for a six percent increase in general state school aid.