DES MOINES — More than 40 percent of Iowa’s school districts, including several from North Iowa, would be in line for a one-time cash infusion to help cover their high costs of busing students under a measure advanced Wednesday in the House.
The House Appropriations Committee amended and approved Senate File 455, which under the House version would make $11.2 million available for busing students to and from school. Districts in North Iowa that would benefit from the bill include LuVerne, Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, Central Springs, St. Ansgar, Lake Mills, Northwood-Kensett, Rudd-Rockford-Marble Rock, West Fork and Garner-Hayfield-Ventura.
The bill also seeks to address an inequity in per-pupil funding with another $2.8 million.
Transportation costs long have been a concern for school administrators and lawmakers as enrollments declined and, in many cases, reorganizations resulted in geographically larger districts.
Under the House Republican plans, 140 of the state’s 333 school districts would get a share of the $11.2 million.
Transportation costs run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek, far over the statewide average. At $716.53, LuVerne has the highest per-pupil transportation cost in North Iowa.
Rockwell-Swaledale and Sheffield-Chapin/Meservey-Thornton reorganized as West Fork in 2011-12, creating a district spanning about 314 square miles.
In 2015, West Fork officials said the average route for miles per student exceeded the state average by 100 miles. The district spends about $400,000 annually for transportation, which accounts for about a tenth of West Fork's general fund, which mainly pays teacher salaries.
The House plan would buy down the district share of those costs to $432 per pupil, said Education Committee Chairman Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Ralls. So, for example, West Fork would get about $36,000.
Democrats objected to the plan because it is a one-time appropriation only. SF 455 as approved by the Senate called for ramping up the state share of transportation costs over 10 years.
“It concerns me that we are not willing to address the inequities we know are there in a significant way,” said Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport. “It disappoints me this is the best we can do.”
The transportation relief for those districts would be in addition to a 1 percent increase — a total of about $32 million more — in statewide aid for schools that lawmakers have agreed on.
“We’re putting a lot of money into those top districts,” Rogers said. “To say this is nothing is wrong.”
Winckler also was disappointed in the per-pupil inequity piece that would lessen the funding gap for Davenport and other districts from $175 per pupil per year to $170. The disparity between districts dates to the 1970s when the state set per-pupil levels.
According to the Iowa Association of School Boards, 161 districts will get an additional $5 per student from the state. That will generate $1.3 million in local property tax relief for the districts.