Iowa Democrats, GOP ‘kind of’ agree to education budget deal

Bipartisan agreement reached on an increase of $87 million over last year in ed budget

James Q. Lynch
Published: April 3 2014 | 3:15 pm - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:09 pm in

Democratic legislative leaders say there’s agreement on a fiscal 2015 budget that will amount to nearly one-seventh of the proposed total general fund spending next year.

“We’ve reached a bipartisan agreement on investing $986 million, an increase of $87 million over last year,” Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Brian Schoenjahn, D-Arlington, said Thursday.

Mostly true, said his House counterpart, Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, R-Mount Ayr.

“About 90 percent of the money is kind of agreed to, but there are sizable differences,” he said.

Schoenjahn, speaking at Democratic leaders’ weekly news conference, acknowledged he and Dolecheck “are still working to find common ground on every priority.”

However, he’s convinced lawmakers will agree on a budget that increases investments in helping teachers improve, helping kids learning to read, and freezing tuition at regents universities.

“All in all, I believe we’ve put the money where it belongs,” Schoenjahn said.

Right place or not, Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said Senate Democrats “continue to show they have an insatiable desire not spend Iowans’ hard-earned money and grow government.”

Gov. Terry Branstad and House majority Republicans have proposed budgets that spend less and increase spending at a rate more in line with growth in family budgets, which, Dix said, have increased 3 to 3.5 percent. The proposed state budget represents a 7.5 percent increase.

“If we, as Republicans, were in charge, we would be dealing with budgets that are spending substantially less” than the proposed $7 billion general fund budget, Dix said.

That would cost those families Dix was talking about, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said.

“I certainly appreciate that Republicans think that tuition should go up,” he said referring to Dix’s remarks. “That’ the result if we don’t fund regents at the level we’re funding them. If they want to make that case, they can offer amendments to cut this budget and force tuition to go up.”

He dismissed the comments as “more a rhetorical point rather than actually a policy point.”

Among concerns for Dolecheck are differences in funding for anti-bullying training, regents universities and vocational training.

The Senate has budgeted $1 million for an anti-bullying training program while the House and governor are proposing $25,000. The House has budgeted $700,000 more than the Senate for vocational training and $2 million more than the Senate for an Iowa State University ag experiment station.

The Senate has budgeted a $4.4 million plus a 4 percent increase for the University of Northern Iowa to help it avoid program cuts. Dolecheck said the House agreed to a $10 million one-time appropriation last year to help UNI resolve those issues.

FYI Education Budget

• $49 million for the first year of a teacher leadership program to have Iowa’s most effective teachers share and exchange ideas with other teachers.

• $8 million to fund intensive literacy programs for students in grades K-3. Iowa Reading Resource Center will receive an additional $2 million to improve the teaching of literacy skills.

• $201 million or an $8 million increase to help keep community college tuition affordable.

• $40.3 million for worker training, including targeting specific local skill shortage areas and training workers for those jobs.

• $584 Million for Iowa State, UNI and the University of Iowa. The $24 million increase will continue the tuition freeze for in-state students for a second year. Also, private college student aid will be increased.

• $1.3 million for the College Student Aid Commission to help the next generation of Iowa teachers attend college.

Funding for K-12 education is included in the standings budget, not the education budget.

 

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