Posted on

House lawmakers pass 3% per-pupil funding increase for Iowa K-12 schools

By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

The Iowa House passed a bill Thursday to increase per-pupil state aid for K-12 schools by 3% — a level Democrats said was not adequate to keep up with inflation and does not account for potential new costs from other education proposals lawmakers are considering.

House File 2613 sets the State Supplemental Aid rate at 3% for the upcoming year — a growth of $229 per pupil from the previous year. The House’s proposed SSA rate is higher than the 2.5% rate proposed by the governor, but below the Iowa State Education Association’s recommendation of 4%.

Some education lobbyists, including Dave Daughton with the School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, said at the bill’s subcommittee meeting that the 3% rate will be manageable for school districts if passed in conjunction with other House proposals raising pay for teachers and school support staff.

House Republicans have also introduced House File 2611, which would raise the minimum starting salary for first-year teachers to $50,000 after two years, and set a $15 per hour minimum pay rate for education support personnel such as paraeducators and health or custodial staff. The bill also includes funding for additional teacher pay increases above the starting minimums.

Gov. Kim Reynolds included raising minimum teachers’ salaries as a goal for the 2024 session in her Condition of the State address. A similar proposal remains alive in the Senate through an amended version of Reynolds’ bill on Area Education Agencies — lowered from Reynolds’ proposed $50,000 minimum to $46,251.

During floor debate, Rep. Heather Matson, D-Ankeny, said lawmakers need to keep in mind that the discussion on SSA comes as many other proposals affecting public education are still being debated. School districts cannot depend on the House’s proposal on teacher raises passing, she said. At the same time, Matson said, proposals changing Iowa’s AEA system could push more costs onto school districts for services currently provided through the AEAs.

“We don’t know what an AEA bill will look like when or if it gets to the House floor,” Matson said. “But please know that when it comes to school funding, nothing can exist in a vacuum.”

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, introduced an amendment to raise the SSA rate to 6% for the upcoming school year. The amendment, which failed 35-61, would be a way to make up for underfunding in previous years, Steckman said, as well as ensure Iowa public school students are receiving as much state funding as private school students are through the Education Savings Account program.

“Six percent gives schools $300 million in new money, which matches the new money that we’re giving the voucher kids,” Steckman said. “And those private school kids, that only amounts to 36,000 of our children, not 485,000.”

Rep. Phil Thompson, R-Boone, disagreed with the characterization of the ESA program, which allows families to put an amount equal to the per-pupil spending provided to public school students toward private school tuition, as taking away state funding from public school students. Thompson said with 16,757 students using ESA funds in the 2023-2024 school year, the program cost a total of roughly $132 million dollars.

“We’re about to invest over $3.8 billion in our public schools,” Thompson said. “That’s a pretty significant investment.”

Under a 3% increase, the state would fund Iowa school districts at a rate of $7,864 per pupil in the 2025-2026 school year, an increase from $7,635 for the current school year.

Thompson asked for lawmakers to reject the 6% SSA proposal as it would “put us well past our target” for the state budget. Steckman asked Thompson if Republicans would consider an increase to SSA funding if the teacher pay bill does not advance.

“Obviously, we’re not the only chamber in this building,” Thompson said. “We have to have more discussions on where we’re actually going to land but as I said, as in my caucus, we do fully intend to run another package addressing teacher salaries and (paraeducator) pay.”

The SSA legislation passed 60-36.

Lawmakers missed their self-imposed deadline to pass SSA earlier in February. House Speaker Pat Grassley said part of the delay in passing the state school aid this year was because of the other pieces of legislation with education funding components at play.

“I think a lot of the conversations … tie together with the dollars and cents from the standpoint of AEAs, teacher pay, SSA — there’s a lot of dollars involved with these conversations,” Grassley said. “… We’re trying to see what it looks like within the budget conversation.”

The bill moves to the Iowa Senate for consideration.

— Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Social Share