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Iowa Courthouses Set to Close Eight Days Between March and June - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics
Written by Lynn Campbell   
Friday, 27 February 2009 15:07

House Approves 2 Percent Allowable Growth

The Iowa House gave final legislative approval Thursday to bills setting school districts’ per-pupil allowable growth and state categorical allowable growth at 2 percent for fiscal year 2011, meeting the 30-day deadline to put a bill on Culver’s desk.

Republican lawmakers rose in opposition to setting a percentage that would increase school spending in two years when Iowa’s fiscal future is still up in the air.

At this time, when there is so much fiscal uncertainty not only in the world but the state, it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to try to pick any number that has just as good a chance as being wrong as being right,” said Representative Tom Sands (R-Columbus Junction).

Republicans also voiced concerns about the burden the allowable-growth figure will put on taxpayers. To pay for the 2-percent increase, it’s estimated that $58.3 million in additional property taxes must be collected.

Earlier in the week, the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) warned that a 2-percent allowable-growth rate for 2010-11 would cause an increase in property taxes, result in at least 1,500 layoffs of teachers and staff statewide, and squelch enthusiasm for implementing the core curriculum.

We’ve no more fat to cut, and each cut we makes brings a room full of tear-filled parents to our board room, wondering why we can’t keep our teachers,” said Lee Ann Grimley, president of the Springville School Board. “Our community wants the best for their kids, and they are willing to pay for it.”

IASB requested that legislators raise the allowable growth rate to a number that would cover the cost of wages, benefits, utilities, fuel, and other expenses. Typically, schools need at least 4 percent to keep up with salary settlements.

A 2-percent allowable growth figure is as far as the state can go, Culver told reporters this week. On Friday, he signed into law the bills setting a 2-percent allowable growth for school districts' per-pupil spending and categorical spending for fiscal year 2011.

"We literally did as much as we could given the tight budget," Culver said of the increase in per-pupil spending two years from now. "With 2 percent, it’s less likely there will be as many layoffs."

Democrats have said they plan to use money from the federal stimulus package to backfill a shortfall in state funding for schools in the next two years. Representative Roger Wendt, a Sioux City Democrat and the bill’s floor manager, said he understands the budget concerns but still thinks this is the right thing to do.

I, too, recognize that 2012 could be a very difficult year if we don’t have any change in our economy, but by the same token I think we need to use that stimulus money,” Wendt said. “The intent of the stimulus money was to get us over the difficult times, and I think that’s an appropriate use of stimulus money. I know we have difficult times ahead of us, but I think this is an appropriate thing to do for that 2011 budget year.”

But Representative David Heaton (R-Mt. Pleasant), said it is irresponsible to use one-time money to fund allowable growth. He said that would put the budget in a predicament a few years down the line.

I just have to say I am so concerned,” Heaton said. “Not concerned about being able to fund the 2011 school budget. What concerns me should be concerning you, and that is: What do we do in 2012 when we no longer get assistance from the federal government? Where will this state ever find the funds to make up for the use of one-time funds? While we’re solving our problem today, tomorrow -- after the feds stop sending the money -- what are we going to do?”

Despite Republican misgivings, the bill passed 54-43, meaning the state will provide a total of $2.37 billion in state aid to schools in fiscal year 2011, while property taxes will provide $1.28 billion in funding. The state cost per pupil would then be set at $5,883, an increase of $115 per pupil.