As students return to the classroom and heated debates about schools resume, it’s a perfect time to examine what Iowa’s two gubernatorial candidates have in mind for the future of education in Iowa.
Deidre DeJear, the Democratic candidate for governor, wants to put more money toward public education in Iowa, while Republican Incumbent Kim Reynolds is pushing for “parental choice” and wants to push her plan for using public tax dollars for private school tuition.
DeJear announced her education policies on Aug. 24. She made her main focus supporting and funding Iowa’s public schools, which educate the majority of Iowa students.
DeJear proposed an immediate $300 million boost to public schools from Iowa’s budget surplus and a minimum 4% Supplemental State Aid (SSA) annual increase in school funding to close gaps.
On her website, DeJear says these measures are meant to address the underfunding of Iowa public schools, and that school funding should keep up with inflation to maintain the quality of education in the state.
At an August 24 event, DeJear said, “Our governor is defunding those systems and starving those systems in such a way that folks are raising their hand saying, ‘So we just have to consistently make do with what we have? Is this not critically important to the success of the state and the future of the state?’”
To retain and attract more workers to schools, DeJear also includes increased compensation for people who work in schools and protections for the public employee pension fund.
The policies also include more money for the people who work in schools and restoring the collective bargaining power for educators and support staff.
A law passed by the Iowa Legislature in 2017 reduced the ability of unions to negotiate on behalf of public employees, which includes public school employees.
DeJear also wants to reinstate the loan forgiveness program for educators who stay and teach in Iowa for five years after receiving their degrees.
There’s also investment for trade programs in public schools, from everything from carpentry to cosmetology, so students have options.
DeJear also has proposed early childhood education expansion and ensuring every school has mental health counselors.
On the other hand, Gov. Kim Reynolds doesn’t have any published policies on her candidate website, but has two priorities on Iowa’s office of the governor website: Preparing Students for the Workforce and Providing Educational Choice and Transparency for Iowa Families.
Neither of those include public school funding, but her unpopular “Student First Scholarships” are included. Those are vouchers that give a portion of public state taxpayer funding to students who transfer out of the public school system and into private or charter schools. It would cost $55 million and reach 10,000 students.
The measure has failed twice now in the Iowa legislature. Polling done by Data for Progress for Iowa Starting Line demonstrates the voucher program is unpopular with Iowans.
Instead, public education has consistently been underfunded by Reynolds and the Republican legislature. This year, Reynolds signed a bill approving 2.5% state funding per pupil despite Iowa public school districts requesting more and saying 2.5% wasn’t enough for them to cover all of their costs or keep up with inflation.
The governor’s website also includes provisions that claim to support more transparency. This would mean public schools must publish all of their class materials online, a comprehensive list of the books in their school libraries along with the process for submitting concerns about books, and threats to withhold funding for noncompliance.
Bills that would have enacted these measures also failed in the Iowa legislature this session, but Reynolds has pushed them as recently as Sunday at a campaign event for Rep. Ashley Hinson in Central City.
“We’re going to put parents back in charge of their children’s education,” Reynolds told supporters Sunday in Linn County. “And it is common sense to keep pornographic books out of the classroom. And it is common sense to let parents have a say in where their children should be educated, and it shouldn’t just be for people who have the financial resources to make that decision.”
One of the other priority areas Reynolds has on her website, Preparing Students for the Workforce, has a provision about attracting and retaining teachers. That includes Reynolds’ teacher apprenticeship pilot program which pays high school students to train as paraeducators and allows paraeducators to earn bachelor’s degrees and a full teaching license.
Another part of that area includes work-based learning programs, which allow students to get real-world experience while they’re in school, and can lead to further education, training, or employment after graduation.
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