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Iowans Weigh In On School Choice Legislation

Last Thursday, the Iowa Senate passed a bill that would create a school-choice option and alter how public schools are funded.

Major education reforms are afoot in the Iowa legislature. Last Thursday, the Iowa Senate passed SF 159, which would alter how public dollars are allocated to public schools.

"In general, it provides pathways for state funding to go to private schools, and independent charter schools in ways they haven't before," said IPR's central Iowa reporter Grant Gerlock. "And this is not technically vouchers, but it's effectively the same thing. They would move funding from public school systems to private schools."

On this edition of River to River, Gerlock and host Ben Kieffer speak with lawmakers, stakeholders, educators and parents with different viewpoints on this legislation and discuss the long-term impact the bill could have on Iowa's education system.

"Our Governor's proposal is to encourage a select few to attend private schools with public money," said Mary Kate Pilcher Heyak at a virtual town hall sponsored by Iowa's Senate Democrats on January 26. "So, for example, the governor's message to my relatives in Brooklyn, which like most areas of the state, does not have a private school, is essentially, 'we can't save you from your failing public school because you don't live in the right place. But we are going to use your tax dollars to send some kids to a private school in Des Moines.'"

Lawmakers and supporters of the bill argue that parents are the central focus of this legislation and it empowers them to choose what school is best for their child.

"I feel so passionately about this issue because I look at it as a social justice issue," said mother of five Sara Eide of West Des Moines. [Parents] "should have the ability to look for another option. But sadly, you know, low-income families, even middle-income families anymore, don't have those choices because they simply can't afford to. And that, to me, is is really a civil rights issue."

During the course of this episode, listeners ask questions about the bill, ranging from the separation of church and state to the impact on Iowa's workforce to competition between public and private schools.

SF 159 now moves on to the Iowa House of Representatives. It is unclear when or if this legislation will make it to the floor of the House.


  • Mike Beranek, president, Iowa State Education Association
  • State Representative John Wills, Republican
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River