DES MOINES — Citing a lack of support, Rep. Walt Rogers pulled the plug more than a month ago on his plan to provide taxpayer-funded accounts for parents who enroll their children in private schools.
Now it appears the Cedar Falls Republican’s obituary for educational savings accounts, or ESAs, often called vouchers, may have been premature.
“There’s nothing ruled out around here until we sine die” — adjourn for the year — the chairman of the House Education Committee said Tuesday.
Legislation to establish ESAs in July 2019 — using state grants of about $4,042 that parents of eligible K-12 children could use to pay for sending them to non-public schools — is moving through the Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee.
Rogers isn’t sure what the House would do if the Senate passes and sends Senate Study Bill 3206 to the House.
“The makeup of my House Education Committee has not changed, so I don’t think we could get anything through from that perspective,” Rogers said.
In mid-February, Rogers, citing a lack of support from his committee members, including Republicans, pulled House Study Bill 651 from the committee’s agenda.
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But vouchers have some support in the House, Rogers said, and “when things happen around here at the end, if there is something live over there and not here, I guess that would put some type of a pressure on either chamber to do something.”
If the House is to address the issue, Rogers believes it would be as part of the larger budget discussion.
“We’re getting close to those dollar amounts being figured out, so once we get those budget targets nailed down, it would be awfully hard to change that with a bill like this,” he said.
Estimates are that the vouchers would cost the state general fund about $16 million the first year when they are available for students entering kindergarten. The price tag would increase by about $16 million a year as vouchers are extended to each additional grade.
Rogers, who has been advocating for educational choice for some time, is “waiting with anticipation” to see what the Senate does with its study bill.
However, that’s tempered by the reality that lawmakers are looking to wrap up their election-year session before mid-April.
“I would say the chances are smaller for anything to happen over here,” he said.