DES MOINES, Iowa -- Iowa lawmakers met in what's called a "conference committee" to try to find common ground on a school funding question that's remained unsolved after more than a year of partisan bickering.
Leaders from both parties and both chambers met for a specially called meeting Tuesday morning to determine the level of increased spending districts will get for the 2015-16 school year for K-12 education. Lawmakers have already broken the law of the issue, since they were legally required to determine the funding level by last month. But when lawmakers designed the law, they didn't include punishment for breaking it.
The conference committee met for 40 minutes in a packed room of curious media, lobbyists and legislative staffers. Both sides re-hashed previous arguments when it comes to spending. Senate Democrats passed a 6 percent increase last year for the 2015-16. But house Republicans opted to delay a decision on that until this year. Senator Herman Quirmbach, an Ames Democrat and Iowa State economics professor said his party has lowered its demands for school funding to a 4 percent increase, so house Republicans should raise what they are willing to grant districts. Quirmbach said, "We came down 2 percentage points. We have made a good faith gesture toward working out a compromise deal here. And my belief is that it is now up to the house to make a corresponding good faith gesture."
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican, offered no signs his party wants to raise the 1.25 percent increase it already passed this session. He addressed concerns Democrats have raised that districts will have to cut programs or personnel if they don't get at least a 4 percent increase. Paulsen said, "In fact, 1.25 increase is a commitment to spend additional money on K-12. So there are no cuts. Now the debate is whether or not it's enough. I get that. But there are no cuts that are coming from the general assembly."
Committee members plan to meet again Wednesday at 1p.m.