Iowa schools await tardy state funding decision

DES MOINES — Republican leaders in the state legislature say they’re open to moving a key deadline for local school officials who are developing budgets for the next school year.

Those budget plans must be done by April 30, but the House and Senate have not agreed yet on how much state funding schools will get or whether to raise the mandatory minimum salary for teachers. The legislature’s unresolved debate over Area Education Agencies is also a factor.

“I understand their frustrations,” House Speaker Pat Grassley said Thursday during a news conference at the House press bench. “….We have frustrations as well that we haven’t been able to move the S.S.A., for example, that we haven’t been able to move that forward.”

S.S.A. is legislative lingo for the general level of state funding for schools that’s calculated on a per pupil basis. Four weeks ago, the House voted for a 3% boost in per pupil funding for students in public and private schools, but the Senate has not advanced its own bill. Senate Republican Leader Jack Whitver has indicated some initial decisions may be made next week.

“There’s a lot of money in this budget for schools. It’s in different place. It’s kind of complicated because they’re in different bills and so it’s not as streamlined as I’d hoped,” Whitver said during a news conference in his state capitol office, ” but hopefully we get that resolution soon.”

Senate Republicans may debate their combined plan to restructure Area Education Agencies and raise the minimum salary for first year teachers to around 46-thousand dollars a year. A week ago the House passed a bipartisan plan that addressed teacher pay. It would set a $50,000 minimum salary, give public schools money to raise pay for veteran teachers with salaries below $50,000 and raise hourly wages for other school staff to 15 dollars an hour.

Democrats say Republicans are again failing to follow the state law that requires the legislature to make its decision on general per pupil spending on schools over a month ago.

Today, March 15, if the deadline for schools to set property tax levies for the next school year.  School districts have been holding public hearings about budget plans.