Iowa Senate OKs 2014-2015 school funding increase

DES MOINES – The dueling education priorities of Democratic and Republican lawmakers came into sharp focus Thursday as the Senate backed an increase in school funding and the House tried to pull back on the governor’s education reform proposal.

The Democratic-controlled state Senate approved legislation Thursday by a 26-22 vote that would increase state funding for K-12 schools by 4 percent for the 2014-2015 school year. The measure would cost an estimated $114 million. Another aid bill of about $15 million mostly for teacher compensation, also was approved.

The Legislature is required to set school funding more than a year in advance, prompting the Senate vote. Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who chairs the Senate education committee argued in favor of the move, saying districts need to know their budgets for planning purposes.

“The Iowa House and Gov. Branstad are ignoring state law,” Quirmbach said. “Why is this happening when everyone here in the Statehouse is talking about improving schools.”

Because lawmakers didn’t approve a school funding amount last year, the Senate also last month passed a bill increasing funding for the coming 2013-2014 school year by 4 percent, and to allocate money from a budget surplus fund to prevent local property tax hikes. The House has not yet voted on that legislation and Branstad has said he wants legislators to first approve his $187 million education reform plan.

In the House, Republicans in a committee approved a scaled-backed version of Branstad’s education reform proposals early Thursday morning.

The revised plan reduces teacher raises backed by Branstad and lets schools opt-out of minimum salary hikes or leadership bonuses.