2019 LEGISLATIVE SESSION

Education secretary Betsy Devos touts 'education freedom' proposal in Iowa

Democrats fault closed meeting, private school tax credits

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and state Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, speak to reporters Friday at the state Capitol in Des Moines following a meeting on DeVos’ proposal to fund scholarships for private-school and home-schooled students. The meeting was closed to the public and media. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and state Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, speak to reporters Friday at the state Capitol in Des Moines following a meeting on DeVos’ proposal to fund scholarships for private-school and home-schooled students. The meeting was closed to the public and media. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Pitching her proposal to fund scholarships for private-school and home-schooled students, federal education secretary Betsy DeVos met behind closed doors Friday with Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and other state leaders and lobbyists.

DeVos pitched her proposal for up to $5 billion annually in federal tax credits that would allow states to create scholarships for private and home-schooled students, apprenticeships, tutoring, special courses and others.

DeVos met with Reynolds, state legislators, education leaders, and lobbyists for faith-based and taxpayer organizations for a roundtable discussion not open to the public or media.

Afterward, DeVos and state Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, took questions from reporters.

DeVos described the proposal as “a historic opportunity to expand education freedom so that students and their parents can find the right fit for every child and their education. There’s just a wide range of opportunities this would afford Iowans to pursue.”

The proposal has been met with resistance by majority Democrats in the U.S. House. They and public education advocates say the proposal would adversely impact funding for public schools.

Devos insists the proposal would not do that since it would be funded by taxpaying individuals and businesses who choose to make a donation to the program.

“Public tax dollars should go to public schools. That’s the bottom line. That’s the investment that we choose to make in our students’ future,” said Matt Sinovic, executive director of the progressive advocacy group Progress Iowa. “So anything that would divert that would be problematic.”

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The organizations that represent Iowa teachers, the state Democratic Party and legislative Democrats also issued statements criticizing DeVos’ proposal and Friday’s closed-door meeting.

“Iowans deserve to know what plans Secretary DeVos and Gov. Reynolds are working on behind the scenes that would start to privatize Iowa public schools,” state Rep. Ras Smith of Waterloo, the top Democrat on the House Education Committee, said in a statement. “If DeVos and Reynolds really want to improve education, they would have welcomed all those with a stake in improving education to the table, including teachers and parents from public schools.”

The lone public school representative was Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman, according to a list released by DeVos’ office.

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