Iowa lawmakers still undecided on school spending

DES MOINES — Governor Kim Reynolds says she and other Republicans at the statehouse are close to an agreement on how much “new” state spending to send Iowa’s public schools.

“Right now, I think if we get close to that $100 million range, I’m good,” Reynolds said this weekend during an appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.

Reynolds has proposed a 2.5% increase in per pupil spending. Two other proposals have already passed the legislature. One increases support of geographically large school districts with hefty transportation costs. The other commits new money to help equalize per pupil spending across all Iowa districts. House Republicans have voted for the governor’s proposed spending levels.

“We’ve made it pretty clear that we want to be right there with the governor on the overall package of three items,” said House Speaker Pat Grassley, the top Republican in the House.

Republicans in the Senate have voted for about $20 million less in per pupil spending. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, said schools should be able to start planning for at least a total of $75 million more in total per pupil spending.

“I’m optimistic that we can find some agreement soon,” Whitver said. “…There is a pretty predictable range as schools start that budgeting process.”

School district must finalize next year’s budget by April 15th. Margaret Buckton, who lobbies for the state’s largest districts as well as rural schools, said school boards must provide public notice and hold board meetings before that.

“Really our functional deadline (is) the middle of March,” she said, “which we’re two to three weeks away from that functional deadline.”

Nearly 488,000 students are enrolled in the 330 public school districts in Iowa.

Democrats, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, have argued schools need at least a 3% boost in general state spending.