Iowa House passes education budget falling short of funding requests

With action pending in the Iowa Senate, Iowa House lawmakers passed an education budget that includes a funding boost of $15.9 million to the regents, less than the $18 million the regents asked for.


Ben Allan Smith

The Capitol building in Des Moines is pictured on April 29, 2018.

Sarah Watson and Emily Wangen

Next fiscal year’s funding for Iowa’s three public state universities will fall below Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ $18 million recommended increase if an Iowa House budget bill passes through the Iowa Legislature.

The Iowa House passed a $961 million education-appropriations bill Thursday, which includes a boost of $15.9 million for the state Board of Regents to distribute between Iowa’s three state universities — the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa — in the budget year that begins July 1. The bill also adds $7 million to community colleges.

That falls short of the governor’s initial recommendation released in January of an $18 million increase in state appropriations to the regents, which matched the regents’ request passed in September 2018.

Regent Executive Director Mark Braun said in a statement after Reynolds’ budget recommendation was released in January that the regents were “extremely pleased” with Reynolds’ recommendation.

RELATED: Board of Regents discusses student financial aid, debt

Lawmakers will have to reconcile a $15 million gap between the House education budget and the Iowa Senate Republicans’ education-budget targets. Senate Republicans predicted they would set aside $946.9 million for education appropriations in total, which is less than the House’s proposal, but senators haven’t yet proposed a breakdown between K-12, higher education, and other education areas.

Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, chair of the Senate Education Appropriations subcommittee, which handles general-education funding for K-12 schools, higher-education institutions, and apprenticeship programs, said the Senate had just received the House proposal Monday, and wasn’t sure yet whether senators would file their own education-appropriations bill that meets the Senate’s smaller education-budget targets.

The past two fiscal years, the Legislature has had to make midyear cuts totaling $35 million to the state Board of Regents. Kraayenbrink said he’s glad to have a proposal on the table that doesn’t decrease the education budget.

“We’re just happy to not have to de-appropriate,” Kraayenbrink said. “We’ve done that the last two years and we all found out that’s not fun.”

Kraayenbrink said that the Senate would likely finalize budget details within the next two weeks, adding that lawmakers aim to end the 2019 session on time by the session’s May 3 end date.

State Rep. Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said the dollar amount in the House proposal didn’t meet the standards the Legislature has funded higher education when she first became a lawmaker.

“It wasn’t enough,” she said. “We need to — certainly within our budget — fund the request of the regents and that request wasn’t honored.”

In the last two decades, Iowa’s regent universities have seen the revenue composition shift from being funded by two-thirds state appropriations and one-third tuition to roughly one-third state funding and one-third tuition dollars, regents’ documents show.

UI President Bruce Harreld told The Daily Iowan in December that, despite projections showing revenue growth for the state, there was skepticism that legislators would appropriate additional state support to the regent universities.

“I think we’ve got a point of view that the institutions of higher education are an expense to be cut, they’re not an asset to be invested in,” he said. “… I think we can do better for the economy, I think we’re a major driver of the economy, and as we cut it, it has a negative impact.”