DMR: Democratic lawmakers say Iowa school administrators back quick action on school aid
The Iowa Senate plans to approve a bill Wednesday authorizing $222 million in increased spending for schools for the 2015-16 academic year, but the plan will be dead on arrival in the Iowa House.
Democratic legislators held a news conference Tuesday in an effort to turn around the sentiment in the House, which is controlled by Republicans. They released a survey of 214 Iowa school superintendents that showed 98 percent of them are opposed to plans by Gov. Terry Branstad and the House to wait until the 2015 legislative session to authorize school aid.
The surveys showed advanced approval for school aid helps school administrators plan their budgets, negotiate teacher contracts, develop educational programs and make progress on other academic initiatives. School aid has already been set for the 2014-2015 academic year.
“The message from superintendents to Republican legislators and Gov. Branstad is clear – don’t delay school funding again,” said Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, said Democratic-sponsored bills that will be voted on in the Senate Wednesday will increase state funding to public schools by 6 percent for the 2015-2016 school year.
The three bills will increase basic aid to schools, as well as supplemental assistance, and use state money to avoid increases in local school property taxes.
“Superintendents are waiting for the go-ahead to do what Democrats and Republicans agree should be done: strengthen reading and writing skills in elementary students, reduce class sizes, and increase student achievement,” Quirmbach said.
Gov. Terry Branstad said last week there isn’t room in the state’s budget for a 6 percent increase in school aid. He said it’s important that lawmakers pay for education reform programs and property tax relief approved last year.
Similarly, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen , R-Hiawatha, has told reporters the House won’t take up school aid bills until next year. He said he doesn’t want to make a commitment for more than $200 million in state funding for the 2015-2016 school year without knowing what state revenues will look like that far in the future.
In an effort to ramp up the pressure on Republican legislators, House and Senate Democratic leaders sent a survey via email last week to Iowa’s 300 school superintendents. More than two-thirds responded. A total of 211 of them, or 98.6 percent said they could use state funds more effectively if the Iowa Legislature followed state law requiring that so-called “allowable growth” for schools be determined a year and a half in advance. The deadline to pass the bill this year is Feb. 13.
Some of the top priorities of the superintendents surveyed include expanding early literacy standards, implementing common core standards, funding professional development, reducing class sizes, paying energy costs, increasing teacher pay and upgrading educational technology.
Quirmbach contended that Republicans are sending a terrible message to Iowa’s young people by ignoring laws that they don’t like and obeying laws that they do like.
Branstad has countered by pointing out that Democrats didn’t approve school aid during the administration of former Gov. Chet Culver. Quirmbach said it’s true that there was one year during the Culver administration when state revenues dropped so sharply that school administrators asked them not to approve a school aid bill. But lawmakers passed an emergency measure setting the aside the requirement of approving school aid, he said.
”We obeyed the law. We didn’t flout it. We respected the law and addressed the issue,” Quirmbach said.
Paulsen hasn’t disputed that the law to set school aid exists, but he said last week he expects the House will act to eliminate that requirement.