School Voucher Bill faces first public scrutiny in Tuesday hearing

Iowans had their first opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers about Governor Kim Reynolds' school choice bill.
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 12:40 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - Nearly 90 people have signed up to speak for and against Governor Reynolds’ School Voucher plan at a public hearing Tuesday.

The hearing on House Study Bill 1 is the first step in debate on the proposal that Republicans are expected to easily pass through with supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature. The proposal would create tax-payer-funded education savings accounts with more than $7,500 a year for each student to pay for tuition, tutoring and other costs of attending a private school. Those funds would initially only be available to families making less than 300% of the federal poverty level (about $83,000 for a family of four) but after three years would be open to all Iowa families, regardless of income.

The Governor’s Office estimates it would cost as much as $106.9 million in the first year and $313.9 million when fully implemented in the third year. Public schools have said much of that funding would come at the expense of public schools, which get a share of state funding based on their enrollment. Reynolds’ bill attempts to offset some of this by adding a $1,200 stipend per student living within a district, regardless of whether they attend public or private school.

Reynolds has touted the bill as offering parents a choice in how and where their children receive an education while critics have decried less oversight on public funding going to private schools instead of public ones.

An Education reform subcommittee will hold public comments on Tuesday on the proposal where anyone from the public can sign up or submit a comment online. As of Monday afternoon, nearly 90 people had signed up to speak on both sides, including the heads of religious schools speaking in favor while several retired teachers and school board members speaking against the proposal.

Online comments also show many religious schools and groups voicing support for the proposal.

“Iowa students benefit when their parents have the ability to choose the right education for them,” Dr. Lindsay Laurich, Superintendent at Siouxland Christian School wrote. “HSB 1 recognizes that kids and families have different needs. This isn’t about public vs. private. It’s about what can we do best for Iowa kids.”

While many more comments were submitted against the proposal, including many from those connected to public schools.

“f this voucher passes and public funds are directed to private institutions leaving the public schools with less funding, many cutbacks will need to be made to continue with the programs and staff we have in our public schools,” said Lisa Wittman with the Dubuque School Board. “I am not against private education but maybe there can be a better way to help those families that choose a private school.”

“Public funds should only be used for Public Schools. There is less than 25% of students who have the choice of private schools in Iowa”, said Burlington School Board Member Nancy Hoelzen referring to the number of mostly rural areas with no private schools. “Taking money from public education creates a system that is not equitable.”

“As a rural school district school board director, I can tell you we are already stretched thin to provide our basic services for students,” said Jean Schilling with the Central Springs School Board. “Budget cuts have happened during the past two school years already due to inflation. By diverting funds out of public schools, more budget cuts will follow. Those cuts will soon be deep enough to directly decrease student services and students will suffer. One family with 4 students could divert out enough funds greater than the annual wage of a para educator.”

“This is going to make the gap between have and the have-nots even wider,” said Carol Zuniga with the Columbus School Board. “Our local rural schools are slowly being penny pinched into oblivion. The rural schools that have always been the backbone to this state.”