The yearly state payments to public K-12 schools will increase by $145 per pupil this fall under a “compromise” education spending plan that won approval in the House and Senate Wednesday.
Despite advancing the spending plan to the governor, legislators continued to bicker over whether that’s too much or not enough. Representative Patti Ruff, a Democrat from McGregor, called the funding level inadequate.
“The only way that we’re ever going to solve this problem, in my opinion, is to take it out of our hands,” Ruff said. “It has become a political statement and it should not be one. Our kids need to be a priority. They should be put first and we need a new formula for state aid that proves that.”
The current formula divvies out the money on a per pupil basis and that means 112 school districts with declining enrollment will not get a state funding boost. Representative Todd Pritchard, a Democrat from Charles City, said his local school district faces a half a million dollar budget deficit.
“This means cut staff and cut programming,” Pritchard said. “…This bill is just the latest step in what I view as the dismantling of Iowa’s public education system and I, quite frankly, want no role in that process.”
Republican Representative Chip Baltimore of Boone railed against school officials across the state for granting teachers and administrators pay hikes of three to five percent.
“‘Oh, my goodness! We’re going to have to cut teachers or programs or whatever.’ No kidding!” Baltimore said. “That’s what happens when you know what your revenue’s going to be, but you decide to spend more anyway.”
Representative Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City, said rather than laying off teachers, schools should consider freezing salaries.
“When 80 percent of districts’ total costs are salary and benefits, it becomes a problem when your salary and benefit cost structure is larger than what your revenue structure is,” Jorgensen said.
The spending plan passed the Senate Wednesday morning with broad, bipartisan support, but on Wednesday afternoon in the House, no Democrat voted for it.