House Education Committee passes school funding, teacher pay bills

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The House Education Committee approved bills that increase would per-pupil state aid for public K-12 schools by 3% for the upcoming school year, and raise minimum starting teacher salaries to $50,000 in two years. (Photo by Getty Images) | El Comité de Educación de la Cámara de Representantes aprobó proyectos de ley que aumentan la ayuda estatal por alumno para las escuelas públicas K-12 en un 3% para el próximo año escolar, y aumentar el salario mínimo inicial de los profesores a $ 50,000 en dos años. (Foto de Getty Images)
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By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

In the final day before the first legislative deadline, House lawmakers passed a school funding proposal for the upcoming school year — as well as a measure to increase teacher salaries.

The House Education Committee on Thursday passed House Study Bill 712 on Iowa’s State Supplemental Aid and House Study Bill 714 setting a minimum teacher’s salary. The two bills were introduced by House Republicans alongside their proposal on Area Education Agencies Wednesday.

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The Iowa House proposal would set SSA, Iowa’s per-pupil state aid for public K-12 schools, at 3% for the upcoming school year, above the 2.5% recommended by the governor.

At the subcommittee meeting Thursday morning, Dave Daughton, representing the School Administrators of Iowa and Rural School Advocates of Iowa, spoke in support of the House SSA proposal — with the expectation that other bills will provide additional funding for schools.

“While 3% isn’t necessarily what we would ask in a normal year, if we can get that teacher pay bill going as well, the combination of the two things will help our districts immensely,” Daughton said.

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The teacher pay funding bill would raise the minimum starting salary for first-year teachers to $47,500 in the first year of implementation, and then to $50,000 in year two. The current minimum salary for first-year teachers in Iowa is $33,500.

The measure was initially proposed by Gov. Kim Reynolds as a part of her AEA bill, and would have raised teachers’ starting salary to a $50,000 minimum, as well as set a $62,000 minimum salary for teachers with at least 12 years of experience.

Melissa Peterson with the Iowa State Education Association said at a Wednesday subcommittee meeting that she appreciated House lawmakers working with educators and school districts to craft the teacher pay proposal, as well as the bill being independent from AEA legislation. Peterson said the House bill staggering the rise to a $50,000 minimum will address concerns some school districts had about the proposal, ensuring teacher pay increases “in a fashion that does not put too much intense pressure on our district all at once.”

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Peterson and other education lobbyists also praised a provision in the bill that increased pay for education support personnel, including paraeducators and school staff providing health, custodial and food services, to a minimum of $15 per hour. 

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But Peterson said it was important to remember that the discussion on teacher pay was not happening in a vacuum.

“We support this (teacher pay) provision, but recognize the 3% (SSA) quite frankly is not enough,” Peterson said. “If this bill were not to continue to move forward, or to hit a speed bump along the way, we would be looking for even more of an investment in SSA just to make sure that we can make sure there is adequate funding in our education system to be able to meet the needs of our nearly 485,000 students and retain the quality professionals we have while recruiting even more.”

The ISEA recommended a minimum 4% SSA increase. Lawmakers missed the self-imposed deadline for setting the funding rate for public schools last week. Alongside the House 3% proposal, the Senate Education Committee passed Senate File 2258 earlier in February without an SSA percentage specified.

Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, called for a higher SSA rate at the Education Committee meeting. She said while she appreciated that the teacher pay bill could offset schools’ costs for the upcoming school year, the measure has not passed, and could change during the legislative process.

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“We don’t know what that’s going to end up looking like in the very end,” Steckman said of the teacher salary bill. “So 3% does not cover the cost of doing business for schools, and we haven’t covered the cost of doing business for Schools for years now.”

The teacher pay bill would fund salary increases in part through a $22 million appropriation for teacher salary increases, and $14 million for education support personnel pay increases. Rep. Bill Gustoff, R-Des Moines, said while the bill does not require a higher minimum salary for more experienced teachers, the funding model set out would give school districts more discretion in setting higher pay rates for more experienced teachers and adjusting pay scales in districts already exceeding the minimum requirements.

The bill passed committee with unanimous support. Gustoff said the legislation “checks a lot of boxes, brings parties together, showcases that the legislative process works,” and thanked Reynolds for setting out the $50,000 salary minimum goal.

Rep. Sue Cahill, D-Marshalltown, thanked Republicans, educators and school districts for working together to move forward on raising teacher pay and improving support to school districts.

“We know that money doesn’t solve everything in every situation,” Cahill said. “But there are times when it certainly does help.”

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