House Republicans approved a fiscal 2014 education budget bill Wednesday that would provide nearly $895 million for higher education and other state programs – a level about $20 million less than what Gov. Terry Branstad recommended and about $60 million below Senate Democrats’ target.
“This budget is sustainable, it’s workable and I think it funds the priorities,” said Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr, co-chairman of the House-Senate education appropriations subcommittee, before House members of the joint panel voted 5-4 to approve the GOP version of the education budget. The full House Appropriations Committee is slated to consider the measure on Thursday with plans for floor debate the following week, he said.
The proposed House GOP spending plan would increase funding for regent universities, community colleges, the Iowa Departments of Education, the College Aid Commission, the Iowa Department for the Blind and private college tuition grants by nearly $34 million over the current $861 million level.
Proposed increases include an extra $10 million for community colleges, a $16.1 million hike for the three state universities, $5 million for Branstad’s education reform package and no money for the Iowa Reading Research Center.
Dolecheck said another $5.2 million would be included in the fiscal 2014 standings appropriation bill for education reform – which still would be below the governor’s $14 million request. The House bill also omitted the $5 million Branstad proposed for gap tuition assistance designed to help freeze tuitions at Iowa’s regent universities next school year pending further discussions.
Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, ranking House Democrat, called the House proposal “an inadequate budget” that would leave regent universities at levels $105 million below their fiscal 2009 funding at a time when the state treasury has a hefty surplus.
“This budget is not yet where we need to be,” she said. “I hope we have the opportunity to increase some of these line items.”
Sen. Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, the other education budget subcommittee co-leader, said Democrats are committed to providing $25 million in workforce programs intended to address the state’s skills gap for trained workers. They also want to fund tuition set-aside replacement dollars with at least $10 million and provide adequate money for education reforms and other priorities.
“We just think the tuition money is a priority. We’re hearing every day of students graduating with such debt,” he said.
“I just talked to a student from UNI who is $40,000 in debt and a lot of freshmen are wondering that with the debt they are facing whether it’s even worth it to go to college. That’s a comment that I don’t want to hear,” Schoenjahn noted. “This is our future, this is Iowa and this money is an investment in our future generation.”
The Democratic co-chairman said the House and Senate are “probably $60 million apart” and it is too early in the process to know how hard it will be to close that gap. “I assume the House will pass their version and we’ll pass ours and somewhere in the middle is where we’ll come out in the end,” said Schoenjahn.
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