DES MOINES | Establish state funding levels for public schools now; address inequities in the school funding formula later.
That was the message state lawmakers in the Iowa House sent across the Iowa Capitol to their colleagues in the Senate on Thursday, as Republicans in command continued their work on setting public school funding for the 2018-2019 school year.
The chambers have agreed on increasing public school funding over the current year by 1 percent, which would result in more than $3.2 billion in statewide funding, an increase of roughly $32 million.
The chambers have not agreed on how to address inequities in the school’s funding formula. Some districts have higher transportation costs, which means they have a smaller share of funds to spend on the classroom than other districts. And some districts are able to spend more per student than others.
The Senate on Wednesday attached to the school funding bill their plan to address the transportation funding issue.
The House on Thursday rejected that plan; House leaders said they prefer to address the funding formula’s inequities in separate legislation, and that the Senate plan does not appropriately tackle the issues.
Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, who leads the House’s education budget committee, said the Senate proposal addressed a “very much needed concern,” and pledged the House will offer its proposal in legislation next week. He said the House plan will prioritize funding for districts with the largest transportation costs.
“I give you my word we will address this issue,” Dolecheck said, adding that he has been working on the transportation funding issue for 20 years. “I’m excited we’re at the point we can get something done.”
Although she respected his word, Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, called the Senate proposal a “bird in the hand” for Democrats who have been pushing to address transportation costs, especially for large rural districts, as well as the per pupil inequity issue in Davenport and other districts.
“I’d rather have this one than the promise we’ll do something next week,” she said.
Rep. Todd Prichard, D-Charles City, also found it “troubling that when given an opportunity that we can’t have a proposal that is acceptable.”
However, Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said she respected the effort Dolecheck and others were making by working on Senate File 455 to solve those issues.
“The dilemma we are in is whether or not what is promised to us today will actually come before us on the floor of the House,” Winckler said. “I will take a leap of faith and support the intent the majority party has.”
House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, wondered why the House and Senate Republicans hadn’t worked out their differences before bringing the school funding bill to the floor.
The House voted 57-37 to defeat the Senate-amended version of the school funding bill. Thirty-six Democrats and Rep. Norlin Mommsen, R-DeWitt, voted for it. Winckler joined 56 Republicans to defeat it.
That sends the school funding bill back to the Senate, which adjourned Thursday for the weekend before considering the updated version. Because the House rejected the Senate plan that included the transportation funding, the Senate must approve the new plan without the transportation funding before sending the bill to Gov. Kim Reynolds for her approval.
By failing to agree on the school funding bill Thursday, Republicans missed the deadline that they wrote into law a year ago that requires K-through-12 public school funding be set within the first 30 days of the legislative session.
“We did our job,” Rep. Walt Rogers, chairman of the House education committee, said with a shrug.