Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds pushes school choice plan as part of “comprehensive education reform”

Published: Jan. 10, 2023 at 9:04 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KTIV) - As expected, Iowa’s governor will push a plan for state-funded, private school scholarships this legislative session. That was one priority Governor Kim Reynolds outlined in her “condition of the state” speech Tuesday night.

“We either want to give every child a chance to succeed, or we don’t,” said Gov. Kim Reynolds, (R) Iowa. Reynolds introduced a “comprehensive education reform package” to allow children to attend the school that fits their needs. “Some families may want an education that conforms to their faith and moral convictions,” said Reynolds. “Some kids may have ambitions and abilities that require a unique educational setting; others may experience bullying or have special needs.”

Reynolds’ proposal would create “education savings accounts” for those families. The state will contribute $7,598 to that account. That’s what the state provides for each child attending a public school. For students, in a private school, the plan will be phased in, focusing first on the families with the lowest income levels. “And in three years, every family will have a choice in education,” said Reynolds. “And no child will be limited by income or zip code.”

Reynolds also wants to focus on improving Iowa’s poorer performing schools. “To that end, I have directed the Department of Education to provide tailored support to these schools; to come alongside the teachers and administrators and provide the resources and knowledge they need,” said Reynolds.

The effort will focus on improving early childhood literacy by providing specialized training to teachers on the science of reading. Reynolds also promised experts “on the ground” talking to teachers and observing classroom instruction. “This multi-prong approach will ensure that every school, that every child, has the opportunity to succeed,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds also wants to eliminate some requirements she says are keeping schools from using almost $100 million in state funds. Reynolds wants to give schools the freedom to use those funds to increase teachers’ salaries. “Let’s focus on making sure we reward those teachers who work so hard to make a difference in our children’s lives,” said Reynolds.

In addition to “comprehensive education reform”, Reynolds says kids need support before they’re even born. Reynolds wants to expand the “More Options for Maternal Support” -- or MOMS-- program. It’s a statewide network of nonprofits that connect women with pregnancy support services, housing assistance, and recovery and mental health treatment. Reynolds wants to expand the program to promote paternal involvement and address the needs of fathers.

Reynolds also wants lawmakers to increase penalties for making and dealing fentanyl in any amount.

In their response, Democrats in Des Moines hammered Reynolds on her school choice proposal.

Senate Democratic leader Zach Wahls said the governor’s plan is “wrong for Iowa’s children”, and will “devastate” Iowa’s small towns, and small school districts. “Tonight, Governor Reynolds made clear the true goal of her voucher program, which is to continue the Republican attacks on Iowa’s public schools, and to hand our taxpayer dollars over to wealthy Iowa families that can already afford to send their kids to private school,” said Sen. Zach Wahls, (D) Coralville.

As the school choice proposal is phased in, there would be income limits during the first two years. That would allow low-income Iowa families to benefit. But, Wahls says Senate Democrats will introduce an amendment that would extend those income limits in perpetuity.