Iowa associations say the version of a school funding bill passed by the legislature is not what they had hoped for, but is a step in the right direction of reducing student transportation costs for districts.
Senate File 455, as it was originally introduced last year, would have provided student transportation funding for every district for 10 years. But the House amended the language to only provide a one-time appropriation of $11.2 million, which would only go to districts with per-student transportation costs above the state average.
The Senate passed the House’s version on Tuesday, but lawmakers agreed to revisit the arrangement next year and provide additional funding.
“The bill as it was amended would buy down districts that are above the statewide average in transportation costs, which is $432 per pupil,” said Phil Jeneary, government relations director for the Iowa Association of School Boards. “Any district that is above that would get money to bring them down to the statewide average.”
“Before this bill [went] into effect, the range of expenditures per pupil [ranged] from $10 per student enrolled to $969 per student enrolled, with no options to find other sources of funding to bus students,” said Margaret Buckton, lobbyist for the Rural School Advocates of Iowa and the Urban Education Network.
“Most likely it will mostly affect rural districts just because they are a lot larger in terms of square miles,” Jearney added. “While we obviously wish that (original Senate) version had passed, we do thank them for starting down the path of equity. It’s a foot in the door. Every little bit helps, and we’re appreciative that they decided to do something.”
Buckton said that the one-time nature of the funding was a concern, since districts could use their savings in the classroom for things like textbooks and supplies—but not for permanent solutions like hiring new staff. “So next year, future efforts will likely be at getting this funding into the formula, so there is security and predictably of equitable funding,” she said.
Some districts are also as much as $175 above the state cost-per-pupil, which is another gap Buckton seeks to close. “The final version of the bill eliminates $5 of the gap, closing the difference to $170. That’s progress, but we have a long way to go to get to the final result,” she explained.