As a crowd of protesters outside the statehouse denounced President Trump’s stand on immigration tonight, there was an often bitter debate about state funding for schools inside the capitol.
Shortly after seven o’clock, the 29 Republicans in the Iowa Senate ratified a plan to increase general state aid by $73 per student. Republicans like Senator Mark Chelgren of Ottumwa say it’s as much as the state can afford to extend for next year’s school budgets.
“We’re putting $40 million of new money in,” Chelgren said near the end of the debate.
Senator Jeff Edler, a Republican from State Center, said he had many conversations with superintendents in his area and they offered a common message.
“It was no matter what number we set, please get it to us in a timely fashion,” Edler said.
Independent Senator David Johnson of Ocheyedan left the Republican Party this summer to protest Trump. Johnson ridiculed the level of school funding Republicans have decided upon.
“Excuse me, this is Iowa and this is the 21st century,” Johnson said. “It’s not a priority, not at 1.11 percent.”
Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, called the roughly one percent increase “pathetic.”
“Iowans are starting to connect the dots,” Petersen said. “You can’t let out of state corporations snarf up all our state funds at an all-you-can-eat tax-give-away buffet and expect to have money left for our kids.”
There were several fits and starts during the debate as senators quarrelled, were encouraged to cool it by the parliamentarian and then resume the discussion. Senator Chelgren, the Republican from Ottumwa, and Democratic Senator Tod Bowman of Maquoketa sparred when Chelgren said voters aren’t used to politicians “keeping their word.”
“And that’s going to change now,” Chelgren said. Bowman responded: “He’s saying we don’t keep our word?”
Senator Amy Sinclair of Allerton was the Republican who had steered the bill to “defund” Planned Parenthood through the senate earlier today. It was her duty a few hours later to deliver final remarks on the school funding bill.
“I think we are all tired of each other, if not the conversation,” Sinclair said. “I want to thank everyone for the spirited debate. I think this is how we really learn from each other and move this process forward.”
The debate about school funding now shifts to the Republican-led Iowa House. A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for 11 o’clock Monday morning in the state capitol.