What Iowa Legislative Leaders Said About Education On Opening Day

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

During opening day speeches on Monday, legislative leaders in the House and Senate offered a preview of their goals for education policy this year, with Republicans making it clear they intend to pass a school voucher bill.

Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), the new Iowa senate president, set the tone about the necessity for the state to continue pursuing taxpayer-funded scholarships for students to attend nonpublic schools.

“All Iowa families should have the opportunity to send their children to the school that best meets their needs and reflects their family’s values and moral fiber,” she said. “This should not be exclusive to families with the financial means to pay for tuition or transportation or for those whose families can afford to move to a better zip code.”

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Last year, Gov. Kim Reynolds listed a private school voucher program as a legislative priority. Her bill, Senate File 2369, would have diverted $55 million from public school budgets for 10,000 scholarships for students to attend private school. The policy is often called school choice.

However, the bill failed to pass in the House because about 15 Republicans representing rural districts refused to support it. Despite its failure and unpopularity with Iowans, Sinclair said it will continue being a Republican priority for this session, and repeated it was about meeting students’ needs.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny/Grimes) echoed Sinclair’s words.

“Nobody knows a child better than their parents and parents deserve a say in what is being taught in the classroom and to use their tax dollars to send their children to a school that best fits their needs,” he said. “School choice should no longer be an option only for wealthy families. Public and private schools can both prepare Iowa’s students for the next generation for great careers here in Iowa.”

Democratic minority leaders pushed back on the idea.

“The Governor and Republicans in the House and Senate are talking a lot about private school vouchers. This unpopular scheme will send public money, more taxpayer dollars to unaccountable private schools. But will it help reverse Iowa’s people crisis? No,” said Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls (D-Iowa City).

“In fact, it stands to make the problem worse,” he continued. “The Republican voucher scheme threatens to defund local schools. It will increase the teacher shortage in public education. It will magnify inequality and it will hit rural communities the hardest, forcing more school consolidation and driving more families away from our small towns.”

It was concern about rural school districts without private options that stalled the policy in the Iowa House last year. Many of those districts said it would be a disaster for them. About 60% of Iowans were opposed to the idea when asked about it in a poll.

On the House side, Speaker Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) was more specific about how to do it.

“With the creation of the Education Reform Committee, House Republicans have made it clear that reform will be our top priority this session. While ESAs are an important part of that discussion, we believe it’s just part of the much broader reforms that we will see,” he said.

ESA is short for Education Savings Accounts, the savings accounts the state will direct taxpayer money into for each student to use for nonpublic school options.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst (D-Des Moines) spoke about what Iowans want and urged others not to prioritize the voices of special interests, but the actual thoughts of Iowa voters.

“They want us to lower their costs. They want us to invest in public schools. They want us to legalize marijuana and protect reproductive freedom. Let’s make sure what we heard on the doors matches what happens here on the floor,” she said.

“And let’s remember that our foundation of strong public schools is what got most of us here today,” Konfrst continued. “It’s those same public schools that will educate the majority of Iowans and build the next generation of leaders like us. Let’s make sure we give all students the best start possible.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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1 Comment on "What Iowa Legislative Leaders Said About Education On Opening Day"

  • I am FIRMLY against Gov. Reynolds and the Iowa Republicans “VOUCHERS” on education! What are they thinking???

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