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Iowa House GOP advances a rule change to speed up vote on private school scholarships

house speaker pat grassley speaks to speaker pro tem john wills
Madeleine C King
House Republicans are advancing a rule change that would allow GOP leaders to fast-track the governor's proposal for education savings accounts.

House Republicans advanced a rule change Tuesday that would allow them to fast-track a vote onGov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to give state money to all families who choose to send their kids to a private school.

Bills that involve spending taxpayer dollars or changing tax policies are usually required to go through the budgeting and taxation committees.

Republicans are advancing a proposal that would exempt bills considered by the House Education Reform Committee from that process.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, said the rule change means he can putReynolds’ proposal to fund private school scholarships up for a vote by the full House of Representatives. Similar proposals failed to get through the education and appropriations committees for the past two years.

“We feel that Iowans have an expectation, whether you support it or you don’t, that a committee procedure should not be the reason in which Iowans don’t get to see where the legislature stands,” Grassley said.

Public education advocates and Democrats said they’re concerned about a lack of transparency and a lack of consideration of the bill’s cost.

Reynolds’ office estimates the education savings accounts will cost the state a total of $918 million in the first four years: $107 million in the first year, $156 million in the second year, $314 million in the third year and $341 million in the fourth year.

The $7,598 that the state would send to families for each kid going to a private school would be exempt from state income taxes.

House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights, said she’s concerned about the lack of opportunity for more discussion of a bill that has such a big price tag.

“I think it’s important for Iowans to know that this is just against good governance,” Konfrst said. “This is against accountability. And this is against, really, transparency in every way.”

The House scheduled apublic hearing on the bill for Tuesday evening, which Grassley said goes beyond what the rules require him to do.

The education savings account bill is also expected to go through a subcommittee hearing and a committee vote in the Education Reform Committee before it goes to the House floor. Grassley chairs that five-member committee and said he plans to approve the bill at the committee level.

But if the House approves the rule change advanced Tuesday, the bill won’t get additional hearings in the House Appropriations Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.

A Senate subcommittee advanced Reynolds' bill last Thursday. The Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter