CCA, Solon link class-size growth with state dollars
As Iowa lawmakers debate how much funding schools will receive in the next two years, officials in the Solon and Clear Creek Amana school districts say they may face increased class sizes.
The Iowa Senate, with a Democratic majority, announced a plan Tuesday to seek a 4 percent supplemental state aid funding increase for both the upcoming school year and in 2016-17.
However, the Republican-majority Iowa House in January approved a bill proposing a 1.25 percent funding increase next year and a 2.45 percent increase in 2016-17, amounts matching proposals in Gov. Terry Branstad’s statewide budget.
Supplemental State Aid, also called allowable growth, is funding provided by the state to school districts’ general funds, money that in turn goes toward paying teachers and staff, among other expenses.
Clear Creek Amana Superintendent Tim Kuehl said a 1.25 percent increase likely would lead to “continued belt tightening” and a higher student-to-teacher ratio in elementary classrooms.
“We’d be looking at larger class sizes,” he said.
Officials with the Iowa City Community School District have said a 1.25 percent increase for 2015-16 would lead to budget cuts for that year.
Kuehl said class sizes likely would exceed district leaders’ goals of the upper teens and lower 20s for kindergarten through second grade, and in the mid-20s for grades 3 through 5.
However, he said a 1.25 percent funding level likely would not lead to budget cuts for CCA because the district is growing and bringing in more funding as a result.
Kuehl said while he doesn’t think a 4 percent increase will help Iowa catch up with other states in terms of education funding, he hopes Senate Democrats “battle hard” for that amount over the 1.25 percent proposal.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said Iowa Senators plan to debate their proposed 4 percent plan on the Senate floor next week. He said he feels 4 percent is “a good increase” for supporting students and creating a balanced state budget.
Bolkcom said as the legislative session continues, he thinks lawmakers will settle on an amount “somewhere between” 4 percent and 1.25 percent.
“There’s going to be a compromise that’s going to be had here in the next few weeks,” he said.
Rep. Ron Jorgensen, R-Sioux City and chairman of the House Education Committee, said lawmakers are in position where they must look for areas to cut in the state’s overall budget in order to balance it.
He said House representatives want to set state aid “as quickly as possible,” and that they plan to work with the Senate on determining a “fiscally responsible” amount while also prioritizing education.
“The pie is only so big as far as the revenue that’s available,” Jorgensen said.
Solon Community School District Superintendent Sam Miller said continued funding lower than 3 percent would lead to eventual class size increases and budget cuts for his district.
He said while Solon is in “a good budget position” for next year, he’s not taking anything off the table in terms of budget cuts, and leaders plan to evaluate staffing levels.
“At some point in time, something’s got to give,” he said.
Reach Holly Hines at email@example.com or at 319-887-5414, and follow her on Twitter at @HollyJHines.