DES MOINES — Senate Democrats tied education reform to getting what they want for increased school spending and set up a showdown over dollars with House Republicans and Gov. Terry Branstad.
“The price now for education reform is 4 and 4, I want the governor to know this,” said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and the subcommittee that took up the Senate’s education reform package Wednesday.
The figures refer to the 4 percent increase in allowable growth the Senate wants for Iowa’s schools for the next two fiscal years. Allowable growth is the percentage the Iowa Legislature determines that a school district can allow its budget to grow from year to year. Part of that increase is covered by increased money from the state, with the rest typically being picked up by local property taxes.
Gov. Terry Branstad told lawmakers he wanted them to pick up his education reform proposal this year before any discussion on allowable growth.
Senate Democrats decided to move allowable growth first and the Senate passed a 4 percent bill in January over the objections of Senate Republicans.
In February, the Republican-controlled House passed a 2 percent allowable growth as part of its version of Branstad’s education reform package.
Quirmbach said he put allowable growth in the Senate version of the bill only because House members did so last month.
“Reluctantly, we are playing by their rules,” Quirmbach said.
A 4 percent increase, including preschool funding, is estimated to cost $134.9 million in fiscal year 2014. The 4 percent for 2015 fiscal year cost is expected to $114.6 million, but that depends on the final number agreed upon for the prior year and whether it includes preschool.
“This is a disappointment,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Red Oak, the only Republican on the three-member subcommittee. “I am at a loss why we need to include (allowable growth) in this bill. We know we’re not supposed to put this in with this.”
Asked about Quirmbach’s statement that 4 percent is “the price of education reform,” Linda Fandel, special adviser to Branstad on education policy, would only say: “We are looking forward to working with the Senate on policy matters, appropriations and supplemental state aid.”
The bill is expected to get picked up today in a Senate committee. Quirmbach said he expects to offer an amendment that tweaks some items in the legislation based on input he’s received since the legislation was filed Monday.