New school funding proposed to alleviate transportation costs

CAPITOL LETTERS

BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE Gary WORTHAN

District 11, R-Storm Lake

Chairman of the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee

House Republicans rolled out our Fiscal Year 2019 K-12 school funding plan this morning. As promised, we are on schedule to have Supplemental State Aid and categorical funding approved and on the Governor’s desk within the first 30 days of the session. Along with SSA and categorical funding, we are proposing new funds to alleviate transportation expenses in high cost districts, and we are continuing to study ways to improve flexibility in the use of categorical funding.

In our proposed budget, SSA to public schools will be increased by $32 million. This represents a 1% increase over FY18 and brings total state aid to public schools to over $3.2 billion which is nearly 45% of the state’s total budget. Since coming into the majority in 2011, school funding has increased by $765 million, a 31% increase over eight years. Putting $765 million in perspective means this is an extra $1,000 for every child in every classroom in every public school in the state. In addition, there are 2,636 more full time teachers on staff in the state than were employed in 2011, and our statewide ratios of 13.5 students for every teacher is also lower than 2011.

The second initiative in our budget proposal is the establishment of a transportation fund. Transportation cost per student averages about $370 in Iowa but some schools have costs well over $1,000 per student. With transportation costs sourced through a school’s general fund, the classrooms of schools with high costs are at a tremendous disadvantage to more compact densely populated districts. A district with costs of $1,000 per student essentially has $700 per student less to spend in the classroom than a district below the state average at $300 per student. Our initial investment in this fund is $10 million. The mechanics are still in negotiation, so I am unable to comment on the distribution of the fund.

During the 2017 session the Legislature gave school districts greater flexibility in the use of categorical funds. Many districts were carrying balances in certain funds while they had needs in other areas of their budgets. Expanding allowable uses of categorical funds have allowed districts to make more efficient use of the funds that are already in their possession. My conversations with local superintendents indicate these changes have helped and that they are still in the learning process of how these funds can best be used. Our Education Committees continue to study the categorical funds and are working closely with administrators statewide to improve the efficacy of their usage.

Discussion on the extension of the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, better known as SAVE, is not quite as far along in the legislative process as the items I have already mentioned. The primary draft being considered at the moment would extend the tax twenty years to 2049. The only real changes to SAVE being considered at this time are a small increase in the percentage of the income that must be dedicated directly to property tax relief, and a public input and transparency piece regarding using SAVE funds for elaborate athletic facilities. There is a concerted effort to move this legislation yet this session. 

Please join me at my upcoming forums:

Feb. 17, at 10 a.m. at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake, IA

March 17, at 10 a.m. at King’s Pointe in Storm Lake.