GOP lawmakers wrestle with school funding decision

DES MOINES — There’s disagreement among Republicans at the statehouse over how many state tax dollars to forward to Iowa’s public schools for the next academic year. Republicans in the Iowa Senate favor a 2.1% increase in per pupil spending.

“Looking at in total, it’s on average about $3000 per classroom additional dollars going directly to schools for K-12 funding,” Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton, said Monday.

Republican Governor Kim Reynolds and Republicans in the House favor slightly more. Representative Cecil Dolecheck of Mount Ayr and the other Republicans in the House voted for the higher number yesterday.

“This is where we wanted to get to,” Dolecheck said, “to send a strong message that the House is supportive of the 2.5%.”

Democrats, who are in the minority in the legislature, argued the state can afford to spend more on schools — and should do so. Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, said the state’s facing a crisis in public education.

“We’ve seen a 10% increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession,” Mascher said.

Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, said more money isn’t always the answer.

“There is no correlation that you can cite that says the more you spend, the better your schools do,” Garrett said. “That’s the only point I’m trying to make.”

Senator Eric Giddens, a Democrat from Waterloo, said more than a third of Iowa school districts will get less money from the state next year because their enrollment is shrinking.

“Our teachers, support personnel and administrators continue to do an amazing job with the limited resources they are given,” Giddens said, “but they can only do so much without additional funding.”

Representative Ras Smith, a Democrat from Waterloo, said Iowa schools are falling behind “which is evident with 126 schools closing over the last decade and states like Minnesota actively recruiting Iowa teachers, offering them better pay and more support.”

Iowa school districts must certify their spending plans for the next academic year by April 15th, so this state funding decision is key for local decision makers — Iowa school boards and school administrators.