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Iowa House speaker 'pretty confident' private school scholarships can pass in 2023

Pat Grassley
John Pemble
/
IPR file
Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said he is “pretty confident” House Republicans will support state-funded private school scholarships in 2023.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley said he is “pretty confident” House Republicans will support state-funded scholarships for students to go to private schools in in the upcoming legislative session.

House Republicans did not have enough votes to pass Gov. Kim Reynolds’ school choice plan in the past two years.

Grassley, R-New Hartford, created a new Education Reform Committee and installed himself as the chair. He said his committee will handle legislation related to voucher-style scholarships.

And Grassley said he wants it to be paired with more flexibility in how public schools can use their funding.

“Because what I hear back home a lot of times is, from my public school superintendents and teachers, ‘We’re not afraid to compete, just make sure that we don’t have our hands so tied that we can’t,’” Grassley said in an interview Thursday with IPR.

Asked why he won’t let those proposals go through the regular House Education Committee, Grassley said he didn’t want school choice legislation to “be stuck in a committee function for another session.”

“Iowans, I think, deserve to see where their representative stands,” Grassley said. “I felt the only way that I could assure that everyone got to weigh in was making sure that it got through the committee process.”

In the 2022 legislative session, Reynolds’ proposal to divert public school funds to scholarships that families could use for private school tuition never made it out of the House Education Committee, so the full House of Representatives did not vote on it.

Republicans have expanded their majority in the House, and Reynolds ousted some incumbent GOP lawmakers who opposed her plan in the June primary election. That could make House Republicans more likely to reach the 51 votes needed to pass it in 2023, but it’s still not clear.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to get to that,” Grassley said. “I can’t sit here and tell you how many votes I do have.”

Democrats have opposed state-funded private school scholarships, even calling the proposal an “existential threat” for rural public schools.

House Republicans plan to focus on lowering property taxes

Grassley said in addition to education system changes, property tax relief will also be a top priority for House Republicans in the upcoming legislative session.

He said the state’s recent attempts to lower property taxes haven’t always translated into relief for all taxpayers. Local governments largely control property tax rates, and property taxes pay for most city and county services.

“What I would like to see us do…is come with a plan that not only provides relief in some form…but also shifts the narrative from certainty for government revenue, to certainty for the taxpayer themselves,” Grassley said.

City and county officials have resisted past efforts to limit their ability to raise property taxes. But Grassley said some Iowans are concerned about being able to afford to pay their property taxes if they keep going up.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said local officials should be allowed to run their cities and counties themselves, as they were elected to do. She said ensuring people can stay in their homes has to be balanced with maintaining funding for local services.

“Because at the end of the day, if the state says this is how it’s going to be, that’s going to defund police departments, it’s going to defund fire departments, it’s going to defund ambulance drivers,” Konfrst said. “And we need to make sure we’re finding that balance.”

The 2023 legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 9.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter