Updated story — Reynolds signs state spending plan on public schools

DES MOINES — Governor Kim Reynolds Tuesday night approved a plan to provide Iowa’s public K-through-12 schools three percent more in general state support for the next academic year.

Republican Representative Craig Johnson of Independence says it’s a nearly $107 million increase.  “I think it’s a good news story for Iowans and our educators and our families,” Johnson said.

The plan cleared the Republican-led Senate Thursday and was approved by the House earlier on Tuesday.

Democrats like Representative Eric Gjerde  of Cedar Rapids say public schools dealing with escalating costs will have to cut staff and programs.  “The Iowans that I have spoken to say we need to do a lot of things and one major thing is stop strangling our public schools,” Gjerde says.

Other Democrats object to providing public schools a budget increase that’s roughly identical to the amount private school parents will start getting in state-funded savings accounts next school year. Representative Sharon Steckman of Mason City says rural schools are in a financial crunch.  “People used to come back to Iowa because…they knew their kids could get a top notch education,” Steckman said. “Maybe that’s why we are the slowest growing state in the union right now.”

House Speaker Pat Grassley says Republicans have agreed to spend $3.7 billion on school districts next year.  “The total investment that we’re making in public education with the passage of this bill is about 45% of the state’s budget,” Grassley says.

Four House Republicans joined House Democrats in voting against the bill. Three of them also voted against creating state-funded savings accounts for the parents of private school students.