# State Legislature



Public education: Poison or promise?

The co-authors of this commentary are Tim Urban, president of Urban Development Corporation and a former Des Moines City Council member, and Lawrence Streyffeler, a retired Des Moines Public Schools elementary school principal.

The recent attacks by parents and politicians on our public schools are poisoning public education. Many states have recently empowered private education institutions by supporting charter schools, homeschooling, and state-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools instead of their local public schools.

Proponents argue that the declining quality of student performance in public schools warrants giving parents a choice where to educate their children. They often cite parents who want to enrich their children’s education, but cannot pay for it.

Such student outcomes are self-fulfilling In Iowa when public schools are starved.

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Questions for lawmakers who voted for "school choice"

Dianne Prichard of DeWitt taught in public schools for 33 years before becoming a pastor.

I have questions for the legislators who voted for the “school choice” bill, which Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law on January 24. 

1. How will you support our public schools?

As House File 68 is written, vouchers will harm public schools. 

About 33,000 Iowa students go to private schools now; the governor predicts that number will increase by 5,000 students. Meanwhile, approximately 500,000 Iowa students will remain in underfunded public schools.

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The twelve Iowa Republicans who voted against school vouchers

Less than two weeks after making her latest pitch for “school choice,” Governor Kim Reynolds got what she wanted. The Republican-controlled legislature approved the governor’s expansive school voucher program, by 55 votes to 45 in the Iowa House and 31 votes to 18 in the Senate.

The state of play in the lower chamber was in doubt as recently as a few days ago. Reynolds had only one public event on her schedule last week, but she held private meetings with more than a few House Republicans who either opposed her plan or were on the fence about approving an unlimited new entitlement for families choosing private schools. According to the fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, which does not include all expenses, the proposal will cost Iowa’s general fund an additional $878.8 million over the next four fiscal years, with costs reaching about $345 million during the fourth year.

House leaders changed the chamber’s rules to keep the voucher bill out of the Appropriations and Ways and Means committees, where there might not have been enough Republican support to send the legislation to the floor. Senate leaders used a procedural trick to prevent any Democratic amendments from being considered.

No GOP lawmakers spoke against the bill during the floor debates in either chamber. Three Republican holdouts (State Representatives Chad Ingels, Brian Lohse, and Tom Moore) indicated during the five-hour House session that they would like to be recognized by the chair. But each turned off their light at some point before being called on to speak.

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So many questions, but so few answers

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com

You don’t need a crystal ball to see that private school vouchers appear to be barreling toward passage during the third week of the Iowa legislature’s 2023 session. These vouchers, or education savings accounts, or whatever you want to call them, would give parents $7,600 per year for each of their kids to attend a private K-12 school.

Although the outcome has been easy to foresee, it has not been easy to get answers to the many questions being asked across the state as Iowa lawmakers move toward this landmark change in education.

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Separate and unequal is wrong for Iowa

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for eleven years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association Regional Director for 27 years until retiring.

Governor Kim Reynolds’ private school voucher plan, which is being rammed through the Iowa legislature, does more than throw public coffers open to private schools. It obliterates the line between church and state as a new entitlement spawns an unequal, two-tier publicly-funded school system. 

Ironically, 86 years before the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that a two-tier public-school system based on race was unconstitutional, the Iowa Supreme Court determined in Clark v. Board of School Directors, “Schools may not segregate students based on race.”

An unequal publicly-funded system didn’t work then.

It won’t work now.

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Bruce Rastetter weighs in with Iowa lawmakers on school vouchers

One of Iowa’s largest Republican donors, whose company is seeking to build a carbon dioxide pipeline across Iowa, has urged state lawmakers to pass Governor Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” proposal.

Bruce Rastetter sent identical emails to numerous members of the Iowa House and Senate, from both parties, on January 19. The message (enclosed in full below) called the plan for state-funded accounts to cover private school costs “historic” and “important to families all across Iowa.”

Rastetter is the founder and CEO of Summit Agricultural Group. Its affiliate Summit Carbon Solutions is seeking to build a CO2 pipeline linking 30 ethanol plants in five states, and Rastetter has signed appeals to landowners in the pipeline’s path as Summit seeks voluntary easements. Summit has filed for but not yet received a permit from the Iowa Utilities Board. Its plan (along with other carbon pipeline proposals) has aroused intense opposition in rural Iowa.

Summit’s lobbyists have not registered a position on the school voucher bill, which Iowa House and Senate committees approved this week. Republican leaders are expected to bring it up for floor votes in both chambers next week.

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