Branstad signs school funding bill
BY ROD BOSHART
Gazette Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad came full circle Wednesday, signing into law a school-funding bill that scraps a forward-funding process that he championed several decades ago.
State law has prescribed – at Branstad’s past insistence - that lawmakers should begin each biennium by setting K-12 funding levels within the first 30 days of their odd-year session after receiving the governor’s budget recommendation for each of the next two budget years in advance to allow districts to plan ahead.
However, that law has gone ignored in recent years and the GOP-run Legislature this year opted to scrap that law in favor of a requirement that lawmakers set the first year within the 30-day framework but then wait until after the March revenue estimate to decide whether to set the fiscal 2019 amount for state aid yet this session.
On Wednesday, Branstad signed Senate File 166 which revamps the state’s school funding system.
Under the bill, which passed the Iowa Senate 28-21 last week and the Iowa House 55-40 on Monday evening, Iowa’s 333 public school districts will receive an extra $40 million in state supplemental aid for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Overall, funding for each student enrolled in K-12 public schools would increase by $73 to $6,664 under the 1.11 percent increase included in Senate File 166 with overall state general fund spending approaching $3.2 billion next school year.
Senate File 166 also would boost “categorical” funding to help reduce class sizes, boost teacher salaries and pay for early intervention programs by 1.11 percent and provide a $5.3 million boost in property tax replacement money.
Under the proposed GOP funding level, more than half – about 54 percent – of Iowa’s school districts would be under the state’s budget guarantee – a safeguard for schools dealing with declining enrollments that provides for 1 percent funding growth using local property taxes.
“In my Condition of the State address, I challenged the Legislature to set school funding in the first 30 days of the legislative session. Today, with the help of House and Senate Republicans, we made that goal a reality,” Branstad said in a statement.
In his two-year budget plan outlined last month, Branstad recommended to boost K-12 funding by $78.8 million next fiscal year and $63.5 million in fiscal 2019. He also asked the Legislature to set both fiscal years’ state aid increases for schools in the first 30 days of the session that began on Jan. 9.
“I remain hopeful that the Legislature will be able to set funding for fiscal year 2019 after the March revenue estimate,” Branstad added in Wednesday’s statement.
Legislative Democrats tried unsuccessfully to convince majority Republicans to at least provide the governor’s recommended funding levels for school administrators who predicted class sizes would increase, teachers would be laid off, academic offerings would be pared back and more school consolidation could be in the offing with the 1.1 percent boost in supplemental state aid.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said Wednesday’s action would provide “predictability and stability that administrators, school boards and teachers need,” while noting that the $40 million increase for K-12 education “was on top of the $150 million provided through the Teacher Leadership System that rewards our great teachers.”