HomeSchool Reform NewsIowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Signs Landmark School Choice Bill

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Signs Landmark School Choice Bill

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs landmark school choice bill into law that allows parents to use tax funds in an Education Saving Account for private school tuition.

By Eileen Griffin

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the Students First Act, allowing school children access to taxpayer funds to use toward private school tuition.

The legislation, House File 68, allows parents to use the state-allocated $7,600 per pupil in an education saving account (ESA) toward tuition at a school of their choice. For each student who establishes an ESA, a payment of $1,200 will still go to the government-run school the student would otherwise have attended.

Funding Students, not Systems

At the signing ceremony, Reynolds said it was “an amazing day for children and parents,” and she thanked the legislators who responded to her call to dream big and make bold changes for children.

“For the first time, we are funding students instead of a system,” Reynolds said. “We are rejecting the idea that the answer to improving education is simply pumping more money into the same system, year after year, without making significant changes and we are putting an end to the notion that competition is a zero-sum game.”

Reynolds has championed school choice for several years and, after the third legislative attempt, she has succeeded in providing parents the ability to select a school other than the government-run option, the Des Moines Register reports.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed at school and in life. We should support whichever educational choice makes that possible,” Reynolds states on her official website.

Partisan Support

The Iowa Legislature approved the bill despite objections from Democrats, KFYR TV reports.

The bill passed both the House and Senate with only Republican support. With significant majorities in both houses, Republicans were able to easily overcome the opposition of Democrats.

Republicans expanded their majority in Congress this year with support from Reynolds, Heartland Daily News reported previously, and during the Republican primary, Reynolds endorsed candidates for the state legislature who support school choice.

Parents should have the ESA option, although local schools appear to be doing a good job, Iowa state Rep. Zach Dieken (R-Granville) told Heartland Daily News.

“The public and private schools in my area seem to be doing well at educating students,” Dieken said. “I have no doubt that will continue. Ultimately, I will always be for incentivizing parents to do what they want with their kids.”

‘No Bill Is Perfect’

Iowa Democrats and other detractors voiced concerns about the loss of revenue to government-run school systems from the ESA program, KFYR reported.

“This legislation is a blank check to private schools in Iowa’s biggest, wealthiest cities with no oversight, no accountability. And when it all falls apart, rural schools that close as a result of this legislation cannot just reopen easily,” said state Rep. Sami Scheetz (D-Cedar Rapids), according to KFYR.

Another objection voiced to KFYR by a teacher, Kari Mahler, is that House File 68, the Student First Act, does not guarantee students entrance into some private schools. Students with disabilities might not be able to attend the school of their choice.

“No bill is perfect on any issue,” said Dieken. “So, there are some things I hope get tweaked or changed in HF 68.”

Addressing Rural Concerns

One public school reform measure in Iowa that will help schools in less populated areas allows multiple school districts to employ the same administrators and teachers, says Dieken.

“One change that did get included was an extension of operational sharing,” Dieken said. “From what I understood, this is a big deal to rural schools.”

Staffing challenges in rural communities can be mitigated with operational sharing arrangements, particularly for specialists such as counselors and business managers, allowing them to work in multiple schools, says Dieken.

‘Celebrate’ School Choice Week, Year

Iowa is the second state, after Arizona, to introduce universal school choice, and could soon be joined by other states, Tommy Shultz, CEO of the American Federation for Children, wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Post.

“Iowa is the first big domino to fall in what should be a jam-packed year for education freedom,” wrote Shultz.

Legislators in other states with Republican governors—such as Texas, Utah, and Florida—are considering similar bills, and the movement for school choice is the culmination of decades of work, writes Schultz.

“Education reformers can and should celebrate this week,” Schultz wrote, “but the groundwork for this victory was laid long ago—and we should look toward the next Iowa, and what it will take to ensure voters’ wishes are respected and education freedom is advanced. To succeed, we must keep taking the fight to our opponents on every battleground, including elections.”

Eileen Griffin
Eileen Griffin
Eileen Griffin writes from Richland, Washington.


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