Iowa Democrats unveiled a plan Tuesday to invest $300 million in Iowa’s public schools through the state supplemental aid program, giving the program a 5% increase.
“If Governor [Kim] Reynolds has $300 million to put toward another corporate tax cut, then there is room in our budget to invest $300 million in Iowa’s kids,” said Iowa House Minority Leader Rep. Jennifer Konfrst.
She said this investment would make up for years of the state underinvesting in the state’s public schools.
Some of the main points of the plan include reducing class size, raising pay for teachers, new textbooks, and support for mental health and pandemic recovery.
This plan was released amid legislative Republicans’ and Reynolds’ focus on expanding parents’ ability to put their kids into nonpublic schools. They argue parents don’t have enough say in their children’s education, despite multiple existing ways they can be involved.
Reynolds’ plan calls for open enrollment in every school district. It also calls for a “scholarship fund”—essentially school vouchers—that would allow families to use public funding to pay for private school education.
Democrats have long opposed those efforts. They have repeatedly pointed out how vouchers harm Iowa students and Iowa’s reputation for quality education.
“We believe that public education makes Iowa great, but Republicans want to give up on Iowa public schools and we believe that we can’t afford that,” said Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls. “Whether it’s underinvesting in Iowa schools or proposing to privatize Iowa’s public education system by using public money for private schools, Republicans do not value public education in our state.”
Wahls and Konfrst said the way Republicans have talked about teachers is part of what’s driving people from the profession. It’s also what keeps so many from applying for jobs at schools.
“What we need to be focusing on is: Are we villainizing teachers who are doing the best they can in the classroom?” Konfrst said. “Our plan continues to focus on valuing teachers and the work that they do and trying not to force teachers out of the classroom by treating them like the bad guys in an old Western.”
That’s in response to Republicans repeatedly, baselessly accusing teachers of intentionally exposing students to inappropriate material and curtailing the topics they’re allowed to teach about such as systemic racism or sexism. Republicans are also trying to exert state control over the lesson plans schools use for subjects like social studies.
Wahls said when Senate President Jake Chapman said teachers had a “sinister agenda” that needed to be stopped, he watched his colleagues applaud those remarks. He also said he hasn’t seen people denouncing what Chapman said.
“That sent a dangerous message to teachers all over the state of Iowa,” Wahls said. “That was wrong and they should have condemned his remarks.”
When asked how they would work with Republicans to make this bill happen, both said they wanted to work with their Republican colleagues to find a number that works for everyone. They would emphasize how important this investment would be, but they don’t have much hope.
“To be honest, we haven’t had a lot of success in the past at showing them that public schools need to be a priority, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop trying,” Konfrst said. “And we know that when we’re up here, we’re answering to parents and kids and everyone who says that Iowa deserves to have strong public schools.”
Wahls echoed her statement.
“We certainly wish that this was not a partisan issue. We think that Democrats and Republicans should come together like they have in the past to strongly support our public schools,” he said. “Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party has just gone off the deep end. Governor Reynolds’ and Iowa Republicans’ proposing a $300 million corporate tax cut, rather than proposing that kind of investment in our children is exactly why we’re in this mess in the first place.”