DES MOINES — School districts across the state will measure their time in hours, not days, under legislation that passed out of the Iowa House on Wednesday.

Under the proposal, a school year would have a minimum length of 1,080 hours. The exact configuration of those hours would be determined by the local school board.

A school year is currently defined as 180 days.

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The bill had overwhelming support in the House, passing 84-16, with all the “no” votes coming from Democrats.

Retired teacher Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, was one of the “no” votes. She worried about school districts adopting longer days and a school year that might not go for 180 days to save money.

“I don’t see that as in the best interest of kids, so when I look at the unintended consequences of a bill like this, I get concerned because I know how cash-strapped districts are,” she said. “I know they are looking for ways to save dollars and, if this is one of them, I fear they will go that route even though it might not be in the best interest of kids.”

But supporters said the measure gives school districts more control to work out a schedule that works best in their communities. It also mirrors legislation that’s contained in the Iowa Senate’s education reform package.

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The House voted 53-46 along party lines to pass a GOP-backed optional 4.5 percent flat tax on income.

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House File 478 would create a dual-system Iowa individual income tax. Taxpayers would be allowed to choose between the current tax system with nine tax rates, itemized deductions, the federal income tax deduction and various refundable and non-refundable credits, and a new system that taxes income at a flat rate of 4.5 percent with limited deductions.

That would “create massive benefits up and down the tax brackets,” according to floor manager Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone.

An amendment that would return surplus revenue to Iowa taxpayers would mean no funds would be available for property tax reform, education reform or health-care reform, Rep. Jo Oldson, D-Des Moines, said.

Senate Ways and Means Chairman Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, has voiced his opposition to the flat tax option.

Bureau reporter James Lynch contributed to this report.

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