DES MOINES — After more than an hour of comment Tuesday, a House Appropriations subcommittee split along party lines to move Gov. Kim Reynolds’ school choice bill forward.
Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids
Representative Steve Holt, R-Denison
Although many of the comments focused more on the merits of private schools and school choice rather than House study Bill 672 appropriations, Reynolds’ legislative liaison told the subcommittee that education is the state’s largest item – 56% of the $8 billion. – plus the general fund budget.
For most families, it’s “money well spent,” liaison Molly Severn said, but the governor thinks “parents matter … (and) deserve options.”
Iowa parents shouldn’t have to settle for a “Burger King education” for their children, Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr. of Des Moines Christian Academy told the subcommittee.
“Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Let the parents decide where to send the children to school,” he said.
Reynolds’ proposal would provide grants of up to $5,500 a year to private school students from families with incomes below 400% of the federal poverty level — currently $110,000 a year for a family of four.
The governor’s proposal “clouds the vision of public schools to meet the needs of every student,” according to Kelly Sawyer of Common Good Iowa, a research and advocacy group.
“It panders to emotional, narrow and ill-informed attacks on professional educators,” she said. “Our schools must provide our students with an environment to explore and understand a world of diverse cultures and a rich but often unpleasant history. This bill will “suppress critical thinking and tough discussions” and lead to greater racial segregation.
Enrollment at Des Moines Christian Academy is 65% minority, Ratliff said, and Nicole Castillo Waller of Des Moines Catholic Schools said enrollment there is 30% minority with 15 languages spoken. Rather than seeking a narrow educational focus, she said, families are “looking for a better educational fit” which in some cases includes a faith-based approach.
In most cases, local public schools are parents’ choice, but if they can’t afford non-public tuition, “then it’s really not a choice at all,” said Patty Lansink, Superintendent of Schools for the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City. .
It’s not the state’s responsibility, said Connie Ryan of the Iowa Interfaith Alliance and Action Fund, especially if a school is run as part of a church ministry, which which exempts her from many public school requirements.
“Assigning public funds to continue religious ministry and support private schools that are allowed to discriminate and fail to meet the needs of some children is simply wrong,” she said. .
The bill would not require non-public schools to provide services for students with special needs, could allow discrimination against LGBT students, and would not prioritize scholarships for lower-income Iowans , said Rep. Tracy Ehlert, D-Cedar Rapids. As written, this would only help 10,000 of Iowa’s roughly half a million K-12 students.
“I want to remind people that for fiscal year 2022, funding for private schools and homeschooling services, they’re already getting over $100 million,” Ehlert said.
Helping 10,000 students is a great start, said Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison. Parents need choice when their public schools teach “Marxist ideology…(and) hatred of our country.”
“That’s why we need more school choice,” he said, joining Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, in signing the bill to send it to the entire credit committee.
HSB 672 was originally referred to the Education Committee before being referred to Appropriations. A similar bill, SF 2369, has been approved by the Senate Education and Appropriations Committees.
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