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Senate approves 4 percent boost in state education aid

Rod Boshart, CR Gazette –

Democrats who control the Iowa Senate voted 26-23 on Tuesday to provide a 4 percent increase in per-pupil state aid funding to Iowa’s public K-12 school districts in fiscal 2014.

Senators also voted 26-23 to increase categorical funding for class-size reduction, professional development and other programs provided by K-12 schools by the same 4 percent for the 2013-14 school year.

The proposed 4 percent “allowable growth” would provide about $142.6 million in increased state foundation aid and an extra $14.6 million for categorical programs in fiscal 2014.

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and floor manager of both Senate File 2114 and Senate File 2115, said the state’s economy is improving, state tax collections are rebounding and the state can afford to increase funding for schools at a time when Gov. Terry Branstad is pushing major reforms to boost student achievement and make Iowa schools world-class competitive again. He said the higher spending level is needed given the schools received no “allowable growth” increase for the current fiscal year and are slated to get a 2 percent boost in fiscal 2013.

Under the Senate-passed version, state spending would increase by $240 per elementary and secondary school student, which would average $6,241 for fiscal 2014.

Even with the proposed higher funding level, 99 districts with declining enrollment still would need to rely on supplemental property tax revenue under a budget guarantee to finance operations in fiscal 2014 – compared to 270 districts currently on the guarantee this year and a projected 205 next fiscal year, backers argued.

However, minority Republicans said today’s vote was purely for political show, given the Legislature’s poor track record of fully funding its commitments to education and the fact that Branstad and House Republicans want to revamp the state’s forward-funding law to conform two-year spending decisions with the state’s biennial budgeting process.

“We’ve never done it in our history,” said Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa. “We’ve lied to you taxpayers of Iowa and we intend to do it again.”

Senate Democrats said they took action to abide by Iowa’s educational forward-funding law, which requires lawmakers and the governor to finalize the per-pupil state aid number more than a year in advance and to do it in within 30 days of the date the governor submits a budget plan to the Legislature. That took place on Jan. 10, so this year’s deadline to comply with state law is Thursday.

Gov. Terry Branstad has called for the split-control Legislature to repeal the law and consider new reforms in how resources are allocated to elementary and secondary schools that will produce better results in student achievement. He also noted that lawmakers have not abided by the forward-funding law in the past.

For their part, Republicans who hold a 60-40 edge in the House, have moved a bill to their debate calendar that proposes an immediate modification to existing law by changing the requirement to say the state K-12 education growth rates would be set in each odd-numbered year for the two upcoming budget years. The new deadline would be within 30 days of the date the governor submits a proposed two-year budget in each odd-numbered year.

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