House votes for 3% hike in per pupil spending for Iowa schools

DES MOINES — Republicans in the Iowa House have voted to provide a 3% boost in per pupil state funding for public schools in the next academic year, as well as a 3% increase in state payments into Education Savings Accounts for private school students who’ll qualify for the program.

Representative Phil Thompson, a Republican from Boone, said the plan calls for $3.8 billion in state spending on public schools in the next school year. “I am proud of this investment in our public schools,” Thompson said, “especially when you put it in context with the other pieces of the education funding puzzle that we’re bringing forward this year: teacher salaries, paraeducator pay, school security infrastructure.”

Representative Molly Buck, a Democrat from Ankeny, said with a 3% increase in per pupil spending, the 116 public school districts with shrinking enrollment will raise local propertya taxes to fill a gap, so next year’s budget isn’t lower than this year’s.

“How are rural schools going to keep the lights on?” she asked. “…At what point do we stop and realize that we, in the legislature, are responsible for the shuttering of our schools?”

Representative Sharon Steckman, a Democrat from Mason City, said 3% just isn’t enough for schools dealing with inflation and trying to keep salaries high enough to hire and retain staff.

“Three percent is totally inadequate for our schools. They have been cutting and cutting and cutting over the last 12 years,” Steckman said. “They have reached a point where there’s not much left to cut.”

House Republicans plan to vote later to set beginning teacher salaries at $50,000 within two years. They’re also proposing raises for paraeducators. House Speaker Pat Grassley said those moves are priorities for House Republicans.

“My expectation is that the legislature acts on a bill addressing teacher salaries,” Grassley said. “I just don’t know what it looks like at this point.”

A Senate committee has voted to increase the mandatory minimum salary for beginning teachers to just over $46,000. In January, Governor Reynolds recommended a $50,000 minimum salary for first-year teachers, as well as a $62,000 minimum salary for those who’ve been teaching for at least 12 years.