Republicans in the Iowa House have sent the governor a bill that will increase general state aid to public schools by $40 million for the next academic year.
“Today’s schools are doing so much more than just teaching and we must give them the tools to do that,” Representative Walt Rogers, a Republican from Waterloo, said to open House debate on the bill. “Does that always involve more money? No, it doesn’t.”
Representative Timi Brown-Powers, a Democrat from Waterloo, said legislators can do better than this $73 per student increase.
“I think we need to go back and kind of refigure some things and reprioritize,” Brown-Powers said.
Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, said schools need far more than Republicans are offering.
“This is a moral situation,” Steckman said. “We need to look at it as a moral dilemma.”
Rogers said he and his fellow Republicans are responding to the dilemma of limited state tax collections.
“This plan involves funding education appropriately in the context of our overall budget and our overall state budget needs,” Rogers said.
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said this level of state aid will force more school consolidations.
“If the Republicans wanted to just close rural schools, this is the way to go about it,” Mascher said. “You starve ’em to death.”
The state will send more than $3.2 billion to Iowa’s public school districts next year, according to Rogers, who is chairman of the House Education Committee.
“Funding education is a top priority of what we do,” Rogers said. “K-12 education gets 43 perent of our budget.”
About a month ago, Iowa’s Republican governor recommended a two percent state spending boost for schools in each of the next two years. On Monday, Governor Branstad indicated he will accept the one-year, 1.11 percent increase Republican legislators have agreed upon.
The Republican-led Iowa Senate endorsed the spending plan last week. The House passed the bill late tonight, shortly after 11 o’clock.