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Debate begins on Governor Reynolds’ School Choice Education Bill

Governor Kim Reynolds proposal to use taxpayer funds for scholarships Helping students attend private schools would increase options for low-income families who otherwise couldn’t afford it, school choice proponents said Wednesday.

But public school advocates and Democrats have said the proposal would take needed funding out of public schools and direct it to institutions that aren’t subject to the same guidelines — which they say contradicts the Republican push. this year to increase transparency in schools.

The latest fight over Iowa’s education policy escalated Wednesday afternoon as parents, students, education advocates and school choice groups crowded into a Senate meeting room for their first opportunity to weigh in on the proposal.

Reynolds’ sweeping bill would make some changes to Iowa’s education law, including requiring school districts to post the curriculum and a list of library materials online for parents to view. and fund scholarships for students in private schools who follow an individualized education program. or whose families earn less than 400% of the federal poverty level – currently $111,000 for a family of four.

“This bill is not about those of us who can already choose for our children. This bill is about children who have no other opportunity,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

Republicans said the plan will increase options for families and strengthen public schools through competition, while Democrats accused the majority party of neglecting public education.

“This is a bad bill from scratch,” said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines.

Senate Republicans pushed the bill forward through a subcommittee late Wednesday afternoon. A separate Senate panel has also proposed a separate “Parents’ Bill of Rights” that further addresses school transparency issues. The latter adopted a bipartisan vote.

The two bills show how the GOP is making education, school choice and transparency major issues in 2022, even after Reynolds’ first private scholarship proposal failed. managed to pass the Iowa House last year.

“Informed parents make informed choices,” Reynolds told reporters Tuesday as she discussed her latest bill. “It’s not a zero-sum game.”

Opponents say the school choice bill is problematic. Some promoters want it to be bigger.

Reynolds reintroduced its private scholarship bill this year with some changes aimed at addressing some of the concerns about who is eligible and its effect on school districts.

Other sections of the bill are new, such as a section that adds transparency measures around book titles and programs, as Republicans challenged the content of some library books that parents have challenged across the board. state and country.

The bill would also require students to pass a U.S. citizenship test as a prerequisite for graduating from high school and change a handful of other rules about obtaining a license and registering for college. ‘school.

Although his bill includes other measures, scholarships were the most applauded and criticized part of Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting.

Pro-school choice groups and some students who attend private Christian high schools were on hand to share support for the bill, with students sharing how they have benefited from their ability to have an education and that the opportunity should be widened.

A few parents of homeschooled children also came out in favor of the idea, but said they wanted to see the option extended to people like them, not just those leaving public schools.

“Many are in a lower tax bracket because, like my family, we have to survive on one income,” Pam Molde, from Pella, who homeschools her children. “We struggle every month to pay the bills.”

But several education advocates said Iowa has already implemented significant school options and they are concerned about using public funds to support private schools.

Reynolds’ bill would use a portion of the state funding that public schools receive per student to pay for the scholarship, meaning that state aid that a district had previously received for an eligible student would not would not be available when the student leaves.

Some of the funding, however, would go to support school districts with enrollments below 500. It is intended to mitigate the effects of transferring students out of rural schools, but not all rural school administrators are on board, a said Dave Daughton, a lobbyist. with rural Iowa school advocates.

“When I talk to small schools, they say, ‘I’m not sure I want to take money from other public schools,'” said Daughton, whose group opposes the bill.

Other aspects of the proposal also raised concerns on Wednesday. Education groups said they support transparency, but some of the specific requirements for posting material could be difficult for schools to manage in practice.

Others said they were concerned about removing the requirement that teacher-librarians in K-12 schools have a master’s degree. There were also concerns that passing the citizenship test would be a requirement for graduation, especially for some students who do not do well on standardized tests.

Parents’ bill of rights finds bipartisan support

Senate Republicans introduced a separate bill on Wednesday that clarifies that parents have certain rights for their children, emphasizing their right to know the curriculum their children are being taught, the right to review certain school records and prohibiting schools from require any activity involving “obscene material” without parental consent.

Sinclair, who sponsored the bill, said it primarily outlines existing regulations and practices that school districts are already required to follow.

“What we want to do is bring it all together in one place to talk about the fact that parents are ultimately the ones in charge of the child’s own upbringing,” she said. .

The law project, Senate Study Bill 3079, went 3-0, including with support from Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, the lone Democrat on the subcommittee. Quirmbach agreed that the proposal largely corresponded to existing law and practice and said he supported transparency.

As work on school aid begins, Democrats launch $300 million for public education

In a third proposal, Senate Republicans put forward a plan to increase school funding by 2.25% for the next fiscal year. The Senate proposal is lower than Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal by 2.5%.

House and Senate Democrats have separately proposed a 5% increase in school aid this year. They say that if Reynolds has proposed cutting corporate tax rates by $300 million over five years, that money should be invested in public schools instead.

“If Governor Reynolds has $300 million to spend on another corporate tax cut, then there is room in our budget to invest $300 million in the children of Iowa,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said Republican attacks on teachers are pushing educators out of state and driving class sizes up.

“We think public education makes Iowa great, but Republicans want to ditch Iowa’s public schools, and we think we can’t afford that,” he said. “Whether it’s underinvesting in Iowa schools or proposing to privatize Iowa’s public education system by using public money for private schools, Republicans don’t value the public education in our state.”

On Wednesday, Reynolds pushed back on criticism of schools being underfunded, saying she believes Iowa provides significant funding and increases it every year. She said schools also have federal funding they can use and the state works with schools in other ways.

The Senate’s state aid proposal and “Parents’ Bill of Rights” legislation will go to the Senate Education Committee. Bills must pass a vote in committee to be submitted to the full Senate chamber.

Ian Richardson covers the Iowa Statehouse for the Des Moines Register. Join it at [email protected]at 515-284-8254, or on Twitter at @DMRIanR.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.