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Debate begins on GOP’s education spending plans

DES MOINES — Legislators are planning to send schools more state money to cover pandemic-related expenses. A House GOP proposal would distribute $30 million based on how many days during the fall semester each district had students in the classroom. Groups representing teachers as well as rural and urban schools oppose the plan.

“The assumption that there are not still expenses for a school district that is 100% virtual or is in a hybrid model would not be accurate,” said Melissa Peterson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association. “There are still expenses. There are still costs that are associated with that.”

The Senate GOP’s plan would provide an extra $65 per student to every district except Des Moines. Democrats like Senator Herman Quirmbach of Ames object.

“It’s making the children of Des Moines the ‘whipping boys’ for the dispute between the governor and the Des Moines school administration,” Quirmbach said during yesterday’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton who is chair of the committee, said Des Moines “flagrantly” violated the law by holding classes online without state permission.

“This isn’t about revenge,” Sinclair said. “It’s about using our dollars to the wisest use that we have and about holding elected officials and the superintendent that they hired accountable.”

The legislative debate has also begun over general per pupil state spending on Iowa’s public K-12 schools for the next academic year. Republicans in the Senate are proposing slightly less than House Republicans are. Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, noted both plans provide a smaller boost than Republicans have approved in recent years.

“We just encourage you to take another look at the numbers and what’s available,” Piper said during a House subcommittee hearing.

Senator Jackie Smith, a Democrat from Sioux City, said the per pupil calculation doesn’t take into account the thousands of students who were not in school this fall, but will return next year.

“It’s extreme to think that schools can improve by cutting their funding,” Smith said.

Democrats also blasted the GOP plan for raising local property taxes. The state’s “budget guarantee law” means up to 43% of Iowa school districts will raise local property taxes under the plans Senate and House Republicans have proposed. Representative Dustin Hite of New Sharon suggested schools can cut administrative costs instead.

“I know in the schools that I’m personally acquainted with the number of administrators or what I call quasi-administrators have grown,” Hite said.

The GOP spending proposals have cleared some initial hurdles in the legislative process, but final decisions haven’t been made.

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