DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowans had their first chance to publicly weigh in on Tuesday on Governor Kim Reynolds’ newest and broader version of educational savings accounts for private schools. Legislators held a 5 p.m. public hearing in the old Supreme Court chambers for anyone who had the ability to attend at the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines. Hundreds did.
The sign-up sheet showed that 122 people registered ahead of time to speak either for or against the governor’s proposal. Her plan would provide $7,598 to families for each private school student and $1,200 in new money to the public school district where that private school student would have attended. The governor failed the past two legislative sessions, despite Republican majorities in both chambers, to pass smaller versions of the private school funding plan.
There were about three times as many Iowans who signed up to speak as could in the allotted time during the public hearing. Speakers were allowed two minutes and the public hearing was limited to 90 minutes.
Samantha Fett, a former Carlisle school board member, said the educational savings accounts will provide more options for families who don’t want their children to attend public school. She criticized public schools for not better educating students. “Families are always going to disagree on how to educate their children. It’s either going to be by force or freedom,” Fett said, “School choice is the only way to move away from this one size fits all disaster.”
Diane Crookham Johnson — a former Republican Party of Iowa official, state Board of Education member under former Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds and Oskaloosa business owner — warned that the plan will hurt public schools statewide by reducing available funding and also benefiting wealthy private school families. “For the more than 480,000 students who attend our public schools — that’s more than 90% of the children who attend school in our state — their educational opportunities are reduced through this proposed cut in funding to public schools.”
The governor’s office estimated the cost over the next four years for her plan would be $918 million. Reynolds has proposed a 2.5% funding increase for public schools.
House Democratic staff tallied up those who submitted comments online for the public hearing.
Pro: 442 (27%)
Con: 1,214 (73%)