DES MOINES, Iowa – On Monday, the Iowa Senate Education Committee approved SSB 1159, a bill that funds PreK-12 public schools in the state. On Monday, the Iowa House Education Committee approved a pair of education funding bills, HSB 183 and HSB 184.
SSB 1159 increases the state supplemental aid for public school districts by 2.2 percent. The bill also adds $15 to the base state cost per pupil starting in Fiscal Year 2022. The bill continues the state’s property tax replacement program. The legislation also increases appropriations from the general fund to the transportation equity fund. The amount appropriated is the amount necessary to make all transportation equity aid payments. This addresses increased fuel costs and other transportation issues.
The bill also includes a one-time “qualified instruction funding supplement” of $65 per student for qualified school districts for costs related to COVID-19. The bill requires schools that receive this funding to be “brick-and-mortar” school districts that didn’t fail to comply with state law regarding in-person instruction without a waiver. So, school districts like Des Moines Public Schools would not qualify for the funding.
The bill was passed in the Iowa Senate Education Committee by a party-line 10 to 5 vote.
During the subcommittee hearing that preceded the committee vote, most objections were over the belief that the 2.2 percent rate of growth in state funding was inadequate and over penalizing school districts that did not meet in person without a waiver from the Iowa Department of Education.
“We are also very concerned the not equitable to punish the Des Moines Schools who have very many poverty and low-income students because of some of the policies of the school board and others and other debates I’ve heard concerned about failing schools and that we should give people the opportunity to leave failing schools. But the way to help failing schools is to provide the resources they need that are causing them to fail, and this 2.2 percent is harmfully inadequate,” Brian Carter, representing the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, said.
Christopher Rants, the lobbyist for Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS), expressed his concern about the school district losing out on one-time aid for COVID-19 expenses. He asked the lawmakers to consider striking the qualification and make the monies available to all school districts.
“We have 30,000 students in the Des Moines Public School District that have the same needs as every other student in any other district. COVID doesn’t strike some school districts and not others. We all have experienced the need for COVID mitigation efforts,” he said.
Rants noted that the district’s expenses did not decrease due to starting the school year online, and DMPS is now in compliance with state law.
Crystal Loving, a parent of two children enrolled in DMPS, opposed the bill.
“We’re in our community school. I want support for my district. Are these the students (holding a picture of her children) you want to deny additional support for their safe education? Are you willing to punish my kids and all the other students in the district to deny them resources to keep them safe and functioning that are offered to every other student or people in the state of Iowa?” she asked.
Loving insinuated that the bill was nothing but revenge for DMPS not following state law.
D.T. Magee, Superintendent of Norwalk Community Schools, asked the lawmakers to consider increasing the supplemental state aid to at least 3.75 percent.
“This will help school districts keep up and gain ground on inflation that we’ve been losing ground on over the last 10 years, as some of the SSA increases have not allowed school districts to keep up with increasing costs,” he said.
Magee also encouraged lawmakers to fund every school with the one-time funding to address COVID-19 expenses. He commended lawmakers for addressing increasing transportation costs and equitable funding per student. Magee also said that legislators should consider using some of the “Rainy Day Fund” surplus to offset some of the expenses schools have experienced due to COVID-19.
Dave Daughton, with Rural School Advocates of Iowa, also encouraged lawmakers to increase state supplemental aid to schools at a higher rate since the districts he represents have declining enrollment. He asked lawmakers to consider a 3.7 percent rate of growth.
During the committee meeting, Democrats echoed those complaints from public school advocates.
“One of the biggest disappointments that I’ve had since arriving at the Senate was the lack of investment in our public schools. And this bill just continues that horrid tradition,” State Senator Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, said.
“We always have excuses from members of this committee on the other side of the aisle. We don’t have enough money. We have other pressing priorities are two that I hear often. Well, this year we have enough money. We have about $700 million, sitting in a rainy day fund. And it’s a rainy day, it’s pouring,” she added.
State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, D-Windsor Heights, also opposed the bill.
“Instead of solving problems, this bill creates new ones. This funding level would be inadequate in a regular year but applying it to the enrollment numbers suppressed by the pandemic of 2020. We have 7,000 less students across the state enrolled at presence. Many of those children will be coming back because the majority of them are redshirted preschoolers and kindergarteners. But because we are applying an inadequate level of funding to an artificially suppressed level of enrollment for 2021. That means that 141 school districts will be needing to trigger the budget guarantee that could be as much as $28 million all across the state that would need to make up the difference out of our local property taxes,” she said.
” And I heard a lot of emotion from the families of the Des Moines Public School children who are being told loud and clear by the legislature that their children are worth less to the Iowa Senate than all other children; because our governor won’t reconcile with the Des Moines public school system. The parents know exactly why this is happening and what’s going on,” Trone Garriott added.
State Senator Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, rehashed the concerns and said the bill makes the children of DMPS “whipping boys” because of the dispute between Gov. Kim Reynolds and the DMPS school board.
“Now, that, to me, is unconscionable. I understand that people on each side of this dispute believe that they are acting in the best interests. I have my preferred side of that argument. I’m sure others will have the opposite side. But please, people, can’t we set that aside? Fights between adults should not be visited by short funding the education of our children. And that’s what this bill threatens to do. The children are the innocent ones here. They shouldn’t be the ones who are punished,” he said.
State Senator Eric Giddens, D-Cedar Falls, also opposed the bill.
“We know that by not addressing declining enrollment, due to the pandemic, that 141 of our school districts will be on a budget guarantee,” he said, which would raise property taxes.
Giddens said his constituents are opposed to the level of funding.
“They’re all adamantly opposed to this. And many of the folks that I’m hearing from or the same folks that I talked to on the campaign trail when I was running for school board, who did not want to see their property taxes go up. Cedar Falls will be spared from the budget guarantee this time, but the other two school districts, Waterloo and Hudson, will have increases in property taxes that are triggered by the budget guarantee,” he added.
State Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, who managed the bill in committee, said SSB 1159 increases funding per student by $170 a year.
“Multiply that out for an average classroom of 20 or 25 kids, and it’s a significant increase for every single classroom,” she said.
“This bill is not about revenge. It is legitimately about meeting the needs of school districts who have had children in their classrooms. Who have had to clean. Who have had to provide for additional subs when teachers had to quarantine. They’ve had to change their transportation schedule so as to allow for social distancing on buses. And let’s just be honest, if you don’t have kids in classrooms, you don’t have those expenses,” she said. “It’s not about revenge. It’s about the practical way to best use the resources we have before us.”
Sinclair also said lawmakers need to hold school boards who violate Iowa law accountable, a law, she reminded Democrat lawmakers, they voted for during the last session.
“Their (DMPS school board) unwillingness to educate those 31,000 children that you’ve asked me to think about, their unwillingness to educate them for from August to November, left it so that they did not have those additional costs that other districts did. And so I would just suggest this isn’t about revenge. It’s about using our dollars to the wisest use that we have and about holding elected officials and the superintendent that they hired accountable for flagrant violations of the law,” she argued.
The Iowa House Education Committee dealt with similar bills. The primary difference is that the primary funding bill, HSB 183, did not include the additional one-time funding for COVID-19 expenses and did not include a funding increase for the transportation equity fund. The House bill increased supplemental state aid to 2.5 percent and increased the state’s base cost per student by $10, not $15.
HSB 184 dealt with the one-time funding for COVID-19 expenses. In the House bill, schools would receive a percentage of $30 million based on the total number of in-person instruction days held from August 23, 2020, to January 29, 2021, and multiplied by the number of students enrolled.
The Iowa House Education Committee passed both bills by a party-line 15 to 6 vote.
The appropriations committees in both chambers will need to consider the bills.