The 2021 legislative session should be coming to a close within the next one to three weeks, depending on how fast the two chambers can wrap up budget work. The Iowa Association of Christian Schools has been active since before the session began advocating for meaningful school choice. We have invested in Iowa for over a hundred years employing staff and educating kids at the highest level. We responded to parents over the last year and offered in-person and distance learning with limited resources at the highest level of excellence available. We have demonstrated demand that can’t be met without the state leveling the playing field.
We are proud to partner with school choice coalition members including the Iowa Alliance/Advocates For Choice in Education, the Iowa Catholic Conference, Americans For Prosperity – Iowa, Iowans for School Choice, the Tax Education Foundation, Ed Choice, the American Federation for Children, and others in working toward an education environment in Iowa that truly puts students and their families first.
Governor Reynolds made school choice a priority in her Condition of the State Address and we are extremely grateful she put the issue center stage. We applauded her and continue to applaud her for making it clear that school choice is “not a zero-sum game” and that a child’s educational environment should not be determined by his/her family’s income or zip code. Shortly after her address, the Governor introduced Senate File 159, an omnibus education reform bill that included public and private school choice measures as well as other reforms. We reacted to that bill, explaining why we were encouraged that, for the first time, an Iowa Governor introduced a bill that included an ESA but explaining concerns on the balance between private and public school choice options in the bill and advocating for the removal of the statewide student information system in the proposal.
As we reported last month, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 159 largely intact and sent it to the House where they split the bill into three parts:
- HSB 240 – “The Rest” of the Governor’s education bill that was in SF 159.
- HSB 242 – Charter Schools
- HSB 243 – Students First Scholarship (ESA)
The House has since reduced the expansion of the tuition and textbook tax credit, failed to move the Students First Scholarship bill, and passed the charter school bill without limits on how many can initially form. We support charters as a school choice option and would like to see them begin forming in Iowa, but we need to make sure public school expansion grows at a rate commensurate to private school choice or we simply change how we limit student potential as we negatively impact private school options as other states have done. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of many other states that saw choices reduced as their legislatures continued picking winners and losers.
The Senate has begun the process of amending the charter school bill to adjust their requirements and we are hopeful that both chambers will bring the tuition and textbook tax credit and school tuition organization tax credit (STO) numbers back up to numbers closer to the Governor’s and/or our original proposals. We appreciate the Senate’s willingness to work with both public and private school groups to address concerns and improve the bills. We also want to thank the House and Senate for removing the troublesome and expensive state-run student information system that was in the original SF 159, as this was a deal-breaker for Iowa’s Christian schools.
IACS has tracked a number of bills this year, defeating some troubling proposals and advocating for others. As we wrap up the session, we are optimistic that the House and Senate will send the Governor a series of bills that not only public and private schools can celebrate but, more importantly, is a win for parents statewide who want choices for their children. We believe every policy decision and every education budget item should put students before systems, and put our kids before our own preferences. Parents are the primary educators and decision-makers for their children and we should empower them. Too often, education policy is more about adults protecting their turf than providing the very best for students.
To that end, please visit our current action alert and email your legislators and the Governor, encouraging them to work together to fund students first. It only takes two-three minutes and a brief word or two to customize your email. With your help, we believe the Iowa legislature will hear the overwhelming number of Iowans who support school choice (don’t take our word for it – Braun Research confirmed what we suspected) and pass meaningful public AND private school choice initiatives this year!