Dengler Domain: School Vouchers

For the Republican trifecta-controlled Iowa government, most bills supported by one part of the trifecta easily sail through the other parts. What is happening in the Iowa government right now is fascinating. This is a curious case of interparty, government squabbling over private school vouchers.

For your information, on the 100th calendar day of the session, per diem expenses end per Iowa Code Sec. 2.10(1). In the past, state legislators high tail it out of the state capitol to get back to their private lives, and they also are not getting paid on the taxpayer dime. This day was April 19, and as of today, when I wrote this article, it is May 1. It will be two weeks tomorrow.

There are two important parts left for the legislature in this session, the budget and private school vouchers. The budget is last, so the private school vouchers are holding up the process. The main reason for it is Governor Kim Reynolds. She has fought for this voucher program for years, and she succeeded in getting the Iowa Senate to pass SF 2369.

This bill, according to Erin Murphy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, allows up to 10,000 students from families at or below 400% of the federal poverty level to receive a scholarship of roughly $5,500 to attend a private school. The money would come from the state funding that was dedicated to the public school that the student would have attended, which is roughly $7,700 per student. A portion of the remaining per-pupil funding would go into a state account to help small, rural schools that may lose multiple students and thus a significant percentage of their funding.

While it may sound good – they are setting up a state account to help small, rural schools – go ask local government officials about what happened to their backfill. The people trying to make these promises for rural Iowa do not always hold up their end of the deal.

In the past when the legislature has run long, it was due to the legislature or governorship being held by different parts. This has not been the case since 2017. In fact, there are 60 Republicans in the Iowa House, and they only need 51 votes for a bill to pass. This means there has been resistance against this bill. In fact, Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire businessperson Charles Koch, has endorsed a primary candidate to Republican legislator who oppose this bill. It does not sound right when a rich, out of state person is getting involved with local Iowa politics.

Another sad part of this process is there has been no debate in the Iowa House. No debate will happen unless there are the votes which does not sound like democracy. If the bill is worth anything, it should be debated so legislators can discuss and add amendments, instead of the behind closed door deals. The federal government should not do this as the Iowa government should not do this process. Public tax dollars pay public officials, and public bills should be debated and discussed in public.

Wherever you land on this bill, this has been an interesting look into Iowa politics, specifically the Republican trifecta. Most bills have easily flown through under this trifecta, but this one has not. The buck stops at public schools, specifically rural public schools. Already hurting due to a lack of state funding, this school voucher bill could put rural public schools on a faster track towards consolidation – drying up rural communities – all at the expense of using public tax dollars for private schools.