Iowa school boards now have the ability to offer early retirement incentives to a few more school employees.

Under previous law, early retirement packages could only be offered to school district employees who were between the ages of 55 and 65. A new law that took effect in April lets school boards offer early retirement incentives to any employee who is 55 or older. Representative Curt Hanson, a Democrat from Fairfield who is a retired driver’s ed teacher, said this new law will help financially-squeezed schools with employees who’ve gone beyond the age of 65.

“It is a bill that will benefit many school districts,” Hanson said during House consideration of the bill this spring. “It will incentivize early retirements.”

The new law also makes it clear schools may dip into a separate management account to pay for early retirement incentives. That saves cash-starved schools from using general operating funds to pay for early retirement packages. Representative Dan Muhlbauer, a Democrat from Manilla, said officials from the Coon Rapids-Bayard School District urged him to support that change.

“I think we need to do what we can to help our schools, but particularly our rural schools that are struggling,” Muhlbauer said during House debate. “…Every little bit helps our schools that are working hard to make every dollar count.”

Groups representing teachers, administrators and school board members all supported the law change. In addition, members of a recently formed group called Rural School Advocates of Iowa met with legislators to seek passage of the bill.

The latest U.S. Census data indicates five percent of the U.S. workforce is above the age of 65, but there are no statistics available indicating how many employees in Iowa schools are above the age of 65.