The education committees in the Iowa House and Senate have approved a bill that would ensure school districts have tens of millions of dollars in sales taxes to pay for improvements to school property for decades to come. Margaret Buckton, a lobbyist for Rural School Advocates of Iowa, says this is the group’s number one legislative priority.
“People have often thought that it’s more of an urban or suburban thing, but our rural schools need updated buses,” Buckton says. “They need computers and technology in addition to safe, right-sized facilities, so it’s critical to them.” The one percent sales tax established statewide in 2009 for school infrastructure is due to expire in 2039. The bill legislators are considering would extend that another 20 years. Representative Cecil Dolecheck (DOHL-uh-check), a Republican from Mount Ayr, says most bonding agencies require a 20-year repayment plan, so schools will start to face higher interest rates on bonds if this bill doesn’t pass.
“All school districts are tremendously appreciative of the fact that they are able to spend more money in the classroom because they don’t have to spend their General Fund revenues to repair roofs, make improvements, fix furnaces and those type of things,” Dolecheck says. In 1999, the Iowa legislature allowed local option sales taxes to be raised for renovating or building new schools. Within a decade, 96 counties were collecting the sales tax, but critics said districts near retail centers got a higher proportion of those taxes. Ten years ago, legislators made the switch to distributing the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure on a per pupil basis.