Republicans and school groups are staking out widely different positions over how much state aid should be forwarded to Iowa’s public school districts.
Governor Terry Branstad and many of his fellow Republicans favor a one-and-a-quarter percent increase for the next academic year, while all the state’s major school groups are seeking a six percent hike. Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, scoffs at that.
“You’re asking for six percent and let’s be realistic,” Dolecheck says. “You don’t expect that.”
A bill that would provide the 1.25 percent increase in general state aid to schools cleared the House Education Committee with just the votes of Republicans. Dolecheck says that level of spending is more than what many House Republicans really wanted. Margaret Buckton lobbies for the Urban Education Network as well as the Rural School Association of Iowa. She says state funding for schools has lagged behind actual costs for several years.
“There was a study put out by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities last May that said between Fiscal 2008 and Fiscal 2014, Iowa has lost $641 per student in our capacity to spend,” Buckton says.
Brad Hudson of the Iowa State Education Association says the 1.25 percent hike that Republicans propose won’t even cover teacher salaries, which are expected to go up an average of three percent.
“I’ve never seen this coming out of a period of recession, where we are underfunding our schools like we are now,” Hudson says.
But Republicans like Representative Ron Jorgenson of Sioux City say the increase in general state aid to schools that Republicans propose is in line with state budget reality.
“We’re not cutting education,” Jorgenson says, ” and I understand the need.”
Jorgensen, who is chairman of the House Education Committee, is a former school board member. Senate Democrats have been critical of the level of state aid for schools Republicans propose, but they have yet to offer their own target level for school spending.