Superintendent says Iowa Governor wanted him to lobby state lawmakers on school voucher bill

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 7:48 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A rural Iowa superintendent said he believes Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) wanted school officials to push lawmakers to pass Senate File 2369, commonly referred to as the school voucher bill.

The push happened in an April meeting between the Governor and about six other rural superintendents, according to MMCRU Superintendent Dan Barkel. Barkel, who said he was at the meeting, said he was surprised the Governor was trying to get local districts to advocate for a policy, which they’ve told lawmakers could hurt public schools.

“It told me how much she wants this to pass,” he said. “And we were all surprised how much this is a priority item for her.”

Barkel said the Governor’s point was vouchers would improve Iowa schools because it creates a more competitive environment. He said she used different data points from a pamphlet, during a 30-minute meeting.

“It gave some testing results from a test, which quite honestly, most school districts don’t pay a lot of attention to,” Barkel said. “If we know that particular assessment was going to be the report card if we had vouchers or not. Man, I’m sure we would pay attention to that assessment.”

Heather Nahas, who works in public relations for the Governor’s Office, said Gov. Reynolds has had more than a dozen private meetings with stakeholders about a school voucher bill since December 2021. She said those meetings include school administrators, parents, teachers, and students.

The bill moves public dollars to private schools through scholarships, where those who qualify would have a household income below 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, the most a family can make to qualify is $106,000.

In that case, 70% of the per-pupil funding, about $5,300, would be deposited into an “education savings account” for the family to spend on private school tuition, homeschooling curricula, or other qualifying educational costs. The remaining 30% would stay in the state to be reallocated to smaller, often rural school districts.

Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsed Barb Kniff McCulla over current Assistant Majority Leader Jon Thorup, who plans to vote against the school voucher bill, in the Republican primary for House District 37 on Wednesday. Thorup said he didn’t hear from Reynolds before the endorsement and believes it is related to his lack of support for the school voucher bill.

A spokesperson from McCulla’s campaign said McCulla would support any bill if it gave parents more choices when it came to a child’s education in a text message.

Pat Garrett, who is a spokesperson for Kim Reynold’s campaign, said McCulla would help enact a pro-parent agenda, which includes parental choice in education.

Megan Goldberg, who is a Political Science Professor at Cornell College and KCRG-TV9 Political Analyst, said the endorsement is a signal to other Republicans about the consequences for voting against the Governor. She also said the party and the Governor could also take less public actions, like sharing consultants, data, or any other campaign resources with primary challengers rather than incumbents.

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