Lawmakers Discuss School Funding Rules

The Iowa Capitol

The Iowa Capitol

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The debate on funding schools for the 2015-16 school year has taken hold in the coffee shops and legislative halls of Iowa.

A proposed 6% increase was passed by the Iowa Senate this past week on a party line vote, while the House looks to take up the issue.

State Aid, or what was once called Allowable Growth, has a deadline every year of February 13th. During Eggs & Issues on Saturday, some local’s expressed concern that the deadline wasn’t going to be met.

“The issue is, we can decide now and follow the rule,” said Rep. Larry Sheets (R) about the deadline he says Republicans have tried to change, “or do we wait until we actually know something about what our revenues are going to be. It would be real easy to satisfy the rule by just saying, OK, it’s zero.”

“It’s clear we’re not going to be able to afford 6%” Sheets said of the Senate bill. “That’s a number that’s very far off.”

During the week, Republican members of the house did tackle the deadline issue by introducing HF2194.  “This bill modifies the requirements for enacting the state percent of growth and the categorical state percent of growth under Code section 257.8.”

“Current law requires the state percent of growth and the categorical state percent of growth to be established by statute within 30 days of the submission of the governor’s budget in the year preceding the base year. The bill requires the statute establishing the state percent of growth and the categorical state percent of growth for a budget year beginning July 1 of an odd-numbered calendar year to be enacted within 30 days of the submission of the governor’s budget in that odd-numbered calendar year. The bill requires the statute establishing the state percent of growth and the categorical state percent of growth for a budget year beginning July 1 of an even-numbered calendar year to be enacted during the regular legislative session preceding the base year.”

Senator Ken Rozenboom (R) is in the minority in the Senate, which passed the 6% state aid measure for the 2015-16 school year.

I asked Rozenboom how the Senate came to 6% for their bill. “In my view, it’s an election year statement to try to make us (Republicans) look like we’re not supporting education.”

Several times a year, the State’s Revenue Estimating Conference reviews the projected income, but those projections were last done in December and are not yet available to lawmakers. “I don’t think it’s based on anything in reality,” Rozenboom said of the proposed increase.”

“If you look back the past 12 years, there’s never been an increase over 4%, and in that same 12 year period, we’ve failed to fund that, our promise, 6 of those years.”

Republican’s point towards the 2009 10% across-the-board cut as a prime example of how the future is hard to forecast.

During that time, the state unexpectedly experienced decreased revenues as a result of the “Great Recession”.

“How much sense does it make to make a promise we’re going to do this,” Rozenboom said of what he says would be an unkept promise. “It’s not fair to education, or anybody, to promise something we can’t produce.”

So, for now, school boards and superintendents wait. They have nearly a year before that uncertainty would set into panic, as they are aware of this current budget year’s amount and are in the process of certifying their budgets for the 2014-15 school year.

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