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Whitver, Grassley say they support private school scholarships without family income limits

House speaker pat grassley and senate majority leader jack whitver pose for portraits at the iowa law library
Madeleine King
/
IPR News
House Speaker Pat Grassley (left) and Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver said Monday they support private school scholarships without income limits.

The top Republicans in the Iowa Legislature said Monday they support making state-funded private school scholarships available to Iowans regardless of a family’s income.

Their comments came a day before Gov. Kim Reynolds was scheduled to deliver the Condition of the State address, in which she is widely expected to unveil her new plan for private school scholarships.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Grimes, was asked on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River if he supports diverting public school funding to private school scholarships for families of all incomes.

“Yeah, I’m open to anything,” Whitver said. “I really just want to work with the governor, work with the House, work with our senators to find common agreement.”

He said he expects Reynolds to talk about it Tuesday evening in her speech and to release a bill that the Senate would begin working on shortly after.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, was also asked if he would support state-funded private school scholarships without family income limits.

“Yeah, I would as well,” Grassley said.

It’s still not clear if there is enough support among House Republicans to pass the proposal. They failed to pass it in 2021 and 2022. But Grassley has said he is “pretty confident” they will pass it this year.

“We want to be able to get something done,” Grassley said. “At the end of the day, what the details exactly end up being, we’ll just work through that as we go through session.”

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, told IPR that diverting public school funding would leave public school students behind, and could cause some schools to close.

“This income limit issue is essentially allowing a rich family from Des Moines to take money that they could afford otherwise, and send their kid to a private school, and starve the public school where their kids would’ve otherwise gone,” she said. “And that is absolutely the opposite of what folks want.”

Reynolds’ proposal from last year would’ve diverted $55 million of public school funding to 10,000 scholarships. Families who make up to 400% of the federal poverty level, which is about $111,000 for a family of four, and families with kids with an individualized education program could have qualified.

Reynolds has not said publicly what her new plan for state-funded private school scholarships will look like. But she appears in a TV ad that was released Monday in support of her plan.

“Parents also need a choice to send their kids to whatever school is best for them, regardless of income or ZIP code,” Reynolds said in the ad. “So when children dream about what they want to be, every parent can afford to say, ‘I’m going to help you get there.’”

The six-figure ad buy came from a conservative political action committee called Priorities for Iowa.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter