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Republicans scoff at education compromise offered by Dem’s

DES MOINES — In an effort to break a lengthy logjam at the Capitol, Democratic members of the conference committee on Senate Files 171 and 172 today proposed a “compromise for Iowa schoolchildren.”

Earlier this session, Senate Democrats voted for a 4 percent increase in basic school funding while House Republicans voted for a 1.25 percent increase.

“To resolve this issue, we offered a compromise that meets the Republicans halfway: an increase basic school funding next school year by 2.625 percent. This compromise is exactly halfway between the Senate and House positions,” said Senator Herman Quirmbach of Ames. “We told the Republicans: ‘We will meet you halfway,’ but they immediately rejected our offer.

“With a 6 percent increase in state revenues next year, this compromise is responsible and affordable. We’ve heard from parents, students, and school officials that 1.25% is not enough and this compromise is a step forward,” said Rep. Patti Ruff of McGregor. “Given the importance of education for Iowa families and our economy, we can’t afford to wait any longer. It’s time to end the uncertainty for our students and schools.”

School districts must certify their budgets by April 15, 2015. Across the state educators are preparing school budgets that call for more crowded classrooms, fewer course offerings and extracurricular activities, and higher property taxes.

The compromise proposal by legislative Democrats is the first new proposal by either side. Legislative Republicans have thus far refused to offer any alternative to their initial position.

Quirmbach acknowledged that most Democratic legislators continue to believe that 4 percent is the minimum funding increase that schools need to prepare students for 21st Century jobs. He said the compromise proposal is an attempt to break a logjam that is spilling into its third month.

“Iowans expect their state legislators to work together, find middle ground and solve problems,” he said. “That’s what we are attempting to do.”

After the meeting, Quirmbach said he hoped that concerned Iowans — including parents, students, teachers and administrators — would encourage legislative Republicans to reconsider the compromise proposal.

Representative Sharon Steckman was particularly peeved that Repbulicans would not entertain the compromise.

State Rep. Sharon Steckman
State Rep. Sharon Steckman

“Unreal! Just left Education Conference Committee….we started at 6%, went to 4%, and today offered to meet in the middle (half way between 1.25% and 4%) at 2.628%……..5 D’s voted yes, 5 R’s voted no,” Mrs. Steckman lamented Wednesday. “School budgets are due this month and still no idea what their funding will be…….makes me angry at the lack of concern and sad for our 1/2 a million kids, teachers and parents in Iowa waiting, waiting and waiting.”

Statement from the Iowa Association of School Boards:

Today, the Senate Democrats offered to “split the difference” between the two chambers earlier proposals of 1.25% and 4% by offering to meet Republicans half way. This translates into a 2.625% increase for the FY 2016 supplemental state aid rate. Democrats formally offered this as a motion for approval.

Republicans indicated that they appreciated the compromise proposal and again reiterated that their budget principles would remain the same: not use one-time money for ongoing programs; budget within the revenue received and not underfund programs by setting expectations too high. Republicans noted that the total cost of this offer when combined with the teacher leadership compensation program funds is $155.5 million which leaves less than $26 million in total to fund the other programs in the budget especially in Medicaid.

Democrats noted that we are carrying forward about $400 million in unobligated funds in addition to the nearly $700 million in the statutory state cash reserve. It would appear that the Democrats are conceding that their offer of 2.625% would require the use of one-time money for ongoing programs, something that House Republicans have repeatedly opposed doing.

The motion failed on a party-line vote. However, the offer and the ongoing discussions between the two chambers represents positive progress toward resolving their differences. If no compromise is reached, SSA defaults to 0%.

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