Iowa House OKs plan to buy down school transportation costs

DES MOINES ? Bipartisan approval Monday by the Iowa House of a plan to buy down transportation costs in those districts that spend the most on busing sets up a showdown with the Senate.

The House proposal is a one-year plan while the Senate has taken a multiyear approach to assisting local schools.

The House voted 92-5 to approve Senate File 455 after amending it to make a one-year commitment to appropriating $11.2 million for busing students to and from school. The legislation also would devote $2.8 million to address an inequity in per-pupil funding.

Democrats objected to the bill as amended by majority Republicans, preferring the Senate version that makes a three-year commitment and builds the funding into the state school aid formula.

The Legislature had an opportunity ?to start down the road with true equity,? Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said.

The one-time money is neither sustainable nor predictable, she said.

Although local school districts are ?starved? because increases in state aid have not been as large as Democrats wanted ?to the point where anything is better than nothing, it?s not the right way to go,? Winckler said.

Floor manager Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, told Winckler he respected ?the spirit of your amendment.? However, state revenues have fallen short of projections in recent years so it would be irresponsible to commit to the additional funding for more than a year, he said.

He rejected her argument that aiding the school districts with the highest transportation costs rather than all districts would create winners and losers.

?We?re trying to create a win-win,? Rogers said.

He agreed with Democrats that legislators will be back next year debating ?whether we have the appropriate dollars to do it again.?

SF 455 will go back to the Senate where GOP leaders said they plan to ?stand firm? on their multiyear commitment.

Rather than force a vote on her amendment, Winckler withdrew it to clear the way for bipartisan passage of the Republican plan that would give more than 40 percent of Iowa school districts additional transportation funds.

Under the House Republican plan, 140 of the state?s 333 school districts will get a share of the $11.2 million. Transportation costs run as high as $970 per pupil per year at North Winneshiek. The plan would buy down the district share of those costs to $432 per pupil, said Rogers, the Education Committee chairman. North Winneshiek will receive $537 per pupil. Graettinger-Terril would receive 1 cent per pupil.

The House proposal also calls for adding $5 per student to the per-pupil allocation for 161 districts. In those districts, there is a $175 per pupil inequity in the funding. The additional $2.8 million would close the gap by $5.