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Iowa House speaker says there isn't enough support to pass state-funded private school scholarships

Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, is elected the new Speaker of the House on the opening day of the 2020 Iowa legislative session. 1/13/2020 Photo by John Pemble
John Pemble
IPR file
Iowa House Republicans will not pass the governor’s proposal for state-funded private school scholarships this session, according to House Speaker Pat Grassley.

Iowa House Republicans will not pass the governor’s proposal for state-funded private school scholarships this session, according to House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford.

Grassley spoke with reporters Monday morning shortly after lawmakers returned to the Iowa Capitol.

“When it comes to the school choice bill the governor proposed, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to put the votes together in the House this year to pass that,” Grassley said. “Obviously we want to continue to work with the governor to get something achieved. That’s been a big priority of hers moving towards next session and we’ll work on that in the off season.”

Thelegislative session was held up for weeks past the target adjournment date of April 19 as Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds tried to convince House GOP holdouts to support her bill. Senate Republicans passed the bill in March.

It would havediverted $55 million from per-student public school funding to fund scholarships for up to 10,000 students’ private school expenses. Families with income up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level and students with an individualized education program could have qualified for the scholarships.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she is glad that the bill appears to be dead.

“I think it’s great that the House is stopping school vouchers and the scheme that the governor has been pushing for so long,” Konfrst said. “It’s ridiculous that we had to wait this long for a bill that we all knew wasn’t going to pass because Iowans don’t support school vouchers, and neither does the House of Representatives.”

Reynolds declined to comment Monday.

She recently endorsed the primary opponent of a Republican lawmakerwho opposed her plan for state-funded private school scholarships. Reynolds said she was meeting with lawmakers, public school superintendents and parents over the past several weeks to promote her bill.

Reynolds’ bill also included provisions that were a response to some parents’ concernsabout school library books they thought were inappropriate for students.

Last week, Reynolds was asked if she was interested in a separate bill focused on school transparency without the private school scholarships.

“I think that you need both,” Reynolds said last Tuesday. “I think ultimately what we need to do is make sure that parents have a say in their child’s education.”

Grassley was asked if lawmakers would pass Reynolds’ proposals related to school library books and sharing curriculum information.

“Like I said, not everything’s settled at this point,” he said.

Grassley said he expects the legislative session to end this week.

This is the second year in a row that Reynolds failed to get enough House Republican support for voucher-style private school scholarships. Reynolds has said she will continue to push for this policy next session if it doesn't pass this session.

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn said this isn’t over.

“Kim Reynolds has threatened to push through her voucher scam next year, too,” Wilburn said. “Let’s make sure we don’t give her a chance. Help us elect Deidre DeJear as our next governor to ensure that Iowa lives up to its proud history of world-class public education.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter