The Iowa Senate voted 26-23 Wednesday to spend an extra 6 percent in state aid in fiscal 2016 to boost base budgets and categorical funding for K-12 public schools.
The vote on two separate measures split along party lines, with 26 Democrats supporting the 6 percent increase for the 2015-16 school year and 23 Republicans voting no. Sen. Hubert Houser, R-Carson, was absent when Wednesday’s votes took place.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, the bills’ floor manager, said Iowa currently ranks 37th nationally in per-pupil spending, or more than $1,500 lower than the national average. He said the Senate action would begin a multi-year effort to get Iowa back to the national average.
“Our kids are watching what we’re doing today,” said Quirmbach, who praised Senate Democrats for abiding by the state’s forward-funding law while others choose to “defer, diddle and delay” by refusing to take up fiscal 2016 funding until next session.
Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said minority GOP senators support abiding by the state law, but he called Democrats’ proposed 6 percent increase “unsustainable, unsound and unwise,” noting that the state has failed to keep its promised funding commitments in six of the last 13 years due to shifting tax collections.
“Ladies and gentlemen, when will we ever learn?” he said.
“This is a modest step to catch up and we need to do it,” countered Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids.
GOP senators who opposed the 6 percent increase joined in a unanimous 49-0 vote to provide $26.3 million in state aid to replace local property taxes that would be raised, as currently prescribed under the school foundation aid formula.
Earlier this month, Gov. Terry Branstad said the state cannot afford to increase supplemental aid to K-12 public schools by 6 percent, or $222.5 million, in fiscal 2016, as Senate Democrats have proposed. Republicans who control the Iowa House by a 53-47 edge have indicated they, like Branstad, do not intend to address fiscal 2016 funding for elementary and secondary public schools until the 2015 session.
Under a proposed 6 percent increase, state aid per pupil in Iowa’s public elementary and secondary schools would increase by $382 to $6,748 for each student in fiscal 2016. Last session the split-control Legislature passed and Branstad signed a 4 percent increase for the 2014-15 school year that will increase basic state aid by $245 per pupil to $6,366.
Under Iowa’s forward-funding law, the Legislature is required to establish a future financing level for elementary and secondary schools within 30 days after the governor submits his budget plan – something Gov. Terry Branstad did on Jan. 14. The deadline to comply with state law is Feb. 13.