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State lawmakers expected to vote this week on Reynolds’ school choice bill

Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, speaks at a Senate Education Committee meeting.
Grant Gerlock
Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, speaks against Gov. Kim Reynolds school choice bill flanked by fellow lawmakers in a crowded hearing room.

Still in the early weeks of the 2023 legislative session, GOP lawmakers are ready to vote on huge changes to Iowa’s education system. Here's a roundup of what we know about Gov. Kim Reynolds' school choice bill and where it stands.

It's still early in the 2023 legislative session, but lawmakers are preparing to take a big vote.

It's Gov. Kim Reynolds' third year of proposing state funding for parents to send their kids to private schools, a proposal consistently supported by Senate Republicans, but one that has failed the past two years due to a lack of House Republican support. This year appears different, given redistricting and an election that resulted in a red wave across Iowa.

Now, there are more than 20 new GOP House members, and House Republicans have already taken steps to change their own rules to fast-track the governor’s bill and let it bypass the House Appropriations Committee.

Reynolds' bill is all but guaranteed to pass in the Senate. IPR asked House Speaker Pat Grassley if he has the votes to pass it in the House.

“I don’t think I’d be moving the bill along throughout the process if we didn’t have that expectation, yeah," he said Thursday.

The school choice bill

Reynolds' bill states that by the fall of 2025, all families that send a child to private school will receive the same amount of money the state spends on public school students, about $7,600 per year, to be spent on tuition and other education-related expenses like textbooks and tutoring.

Once it’s phased in, there will be no limits on who can qualify. The bill would let public schools keep about $1,200 for every private school student who lives in the district, and it would add flexibility for public schools to use existing funds that are restricted for specific purposes for raising teacher pay.

Once it’s fully phased in, the governor’s office estimates the program will cost about $340 million per year. Republicans say the state can handle that, even as the massive tax cuts they passed last year will take effect at the same time and eat up a lot of state revenue.

The GOP says giving parents the choice to send their kids to the school they want is a big priority for them, and that they will find a way to pay for it.

Democrats say there are still a lot of questions about the cost, and are still waiting for a nonpartisan fiscal analysis.

It is unclear how much the state would pay a private company to administer the program.

Key arguments

Republicans say they believe in the parent's choice to put their kid in the best environment for them, or one that aligns with their values. They say it’s not pitting public against private schools, and that the plan will even put additional money into some public schools.

Democrats say this will devastate rural schools and communities and take public money out of public education. They've criticized the use of state funding for private schools that are allowed to reject any students they want, such as LGBTQ applicants or students with disabilities. Democrats also point out that much of the money will ultimately go to families who already have their kids in private schools.

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Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter
Clay Masters is the senior politics reporter for MPR News.
Josie Fischels is a Digital News producer at Iowa Public Radio. She is a 2022 graduate of the University of Iowa’s school of journalism where she also majored in theater arts (and, arguably, minored in the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan). Previously, she interned with the Denver Post in Denver, Colorado, and NPR in Washington, D.C.