IOWA LEGISLATURE

Reynolds 'educating' lawmakers on her plan for school choice, funding

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds says she has some “educating” to do to get House Republicans on board her sweeping schools plan that calls for taxpayer-funded scholarships for private school students and expands charter school offerings.

“We’re going to continue to educate and update and reach out to legislators to help answer any questions that they may have,” the Osceola Republican said Thursday about her proposed Students First Act.

The GOP-controlled Senate approved it 26-21 earlier this week with three Republicans joining Democrats, who argued taxpayer funding should be focused on the public education system, not on underwriting private school students.

The House may address school funding next week, House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said, but gave no indication the 59-41 Republican majority is ready to act on Reynolds’ proposal.

“It’s a big bill,” he said. “It’s matter of seeing where the caucus is on all of the pieces.”

Much of the focus is on the educational savings accounts the governor’s plan calls for, but Grassley said there are other pieces his caucus wants to understand before bringing it to the floor.

“We need to understand what we’re voting on before we would consider any action,” he said.

Grassley expects House Republicans to announce their school funding plan not later than next week and indicated it will be closer to the 2.5 percent increase Reynolds proposed than the 2.2 percent hike the Senate has offered.

A 2.5 percent increase along with a $41 million supplemental package to help districts cope with pandemic-related costs would provide $140 million more for K-12 school in the coming fiscal year.

The combination of educational savings accounts for private school students and an inadequate increase in K-12 funding means Iowa would not keep up with inflation, Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls, D-Coralville, said.

“This is a slap in the face for students and educators and other school employees who have provided this essential service to students and families throughout the pandemic, and now more than ever need real investments in public education,” he said.

A 2.2 percent increase in supplemental school aid will result in 141 or 43 percent of the state’s 327 districts getting less state money than this year, Wahls said. That’s would be from a combination of declining enrollment and parents choosing to keep their children out of school due to COVID-19 concerns.

In the meantime, Reynolds will make the case for her Students First Act.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and every day we’re disputing what those myths are, and providing facts to legislators,” she said. “It’s reasonable, it’s balanced, and we believe it’s the right thing to do. So we’re going to continue to educate and update and reach out to legislators to help answer any questions that they may have, and to bring them on board.

“It’s early in the session. It’s part of the process, and we’re ready to go,” Reynolds said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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