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Reynolds-endorsed candidates beat Iowa GOP lawmakers who opposed scholarships for private schools

Gov. Kim Reynolds, pictured at her re-election campaign launch in March, has ousted GOP lawmakers who didn't support her proposed state-funded scholarships for private schools.
Madeleine King
Gov. Kim Reynolds, pictured at her re-election campaign launch in March, has ousted GOP lawmakers who didn't support her proposed state-funded scholarships for private schools.

Four Republican state lawmakers lost their primary races Tuesday night after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds endorsed their opponents. All four incumbents opposed the governor’s bill to create state-funded scholarships for private school expenses.

This was the second year in a row theIowa House didn’t have enough votesto deliver on Reynolds’ priority of diverting tens of millions of dollars of public school funding to families who could use the money to switch to private schools. While there were far more than four Republicans who opposed the plan, the primary election results could have major implications for “school choice” policies next legislative session.

Reynolds was asked Tuesday morning on WHO radio in Des Moines about why she took the unusual step of endorsing the opponents of lawmakers in her own party.

“Just because of the gut-wrenching stories I hear from parents and what their kids are being subjected to,” Reynolds said. “And they really just want a quality education.”

She has said she thinks families who can’t afford it should get the opportunity to send their kids to private schools if they feel their public school doesn’t align with their values.

Three of the GOP representatives lost their races to newcomers endorsed by Reynolds.

Two-term Rep. Jon Thorup, R-Knoxville, lost to Barb Kniff McCulla of Pella in House District 37.

Thorup said Wednesday that losing the primary was disappointing. He said he’s glad he stood his ground because he thought Reynolds’ proposal was a “bad idea.”

“Maybe that idea could be put into a bill that could work,” Thorup said. “But the actual proposals that I read, no, I think they were not a good idea. And I was going to vote against it unless I received other information at some point that changed my mind, but that information never came.”

Thorup said he was proud of passing major tax cuts this year, but he wanted to see how that would affect state revenue before creating a new, expensive program. He said he’s worried property taxes will go up when smaller school districts have to find a way to raise more money to make up for funds that are diverted to private schools.

He said he counted more than 20 House Republicans who opposed Reynolds' bill this year, so he doesn't think it's likely to pass next year without some major changes or new information.

Two-term Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, lost to Helena Hayes of New Sharon in House District 88.

Hite is the chair of the House Education Committee. He has supported and sponsored other “parental choice” policies in his committee, like expanding opportunities to start charter schools, banning schools from requiring masks, and removing restrictions on open enrollment to other school districts. But Hite told the Des Moines Register he couldn’t support state-funded scholarships for private schools.

One-term Rep. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, lost to Zachary Dieken of Granville in House District 5.

And the fourth lost in a race against another sitting Republican representative. Redistricting resulted in Rep. Dave Maxwell, R-Gibson, and Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, both being drawn into House District 53. Fisher won after Reynolds endorsed him.

On Wednesday, a group of organizations that advocate for school choice policies, homeschooling and Christian schools released a statement saying the election results affirm that Iowans want school choice.

“Several Republican incumbents who came out against parental choice in education were defeated and those candidates who publicly supported school choice were victorious,” the statement reads. “Iowans want parents to have choices when it comes to educating their children, and they made that apparent at the ballot box on Tuesday.”

Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said in a statement that Iowans overwhelmingly support their local public schools.

“I have visited countless districts across the state, and the education our educators are providing to our students is of the highest quality,” Beranek said. “We will continue to advocate for public dollars to be used in our public schools.”

The Iowa Legislature adjourned in late May. It is scheduled to reconvene in January, when lawmakers may again attempt to create state-funded private school scholarships. Before then, Reynolds is expected to talk a lot about her “school choice” proposals as she seeks re-election in November.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter