DES MOINES, Iowa — A bill that would use public tax dollars to create scholarships to non-public and private schools is halfway to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk, but Iowans remain divided on the legislation. SF159 would use tax money to fund scholarships for students in struggling public districts to allow them to enroll in private schools.
Among the supporters of the bill is the conservative political group The Family Leader. Nathan Oppman, a lobbyist with the group, said the bill is about helping struggling children. Opponents of the measure argue it strips funding from struggling schools rather than supporting those schools. Oppman disagrees.
“I know there’s a lot of misinformation and fear going around about what the bill does. But this bill specifically helps students in troubled and failing school districts. We don’t believe kids should be forced to be tied to a school, simply because of the place that they live or because of their economic means. We want to give them as much access as possible,” Oppman said.
However, some parents in Ankeny oppose the bill and are concerned it will harm public schools across the state.
“I hear this term about having schools ‘compete in competition.’ Well, competition only works when both teams are playing by the same rules. If we’re going to give tax dollars to other schools besides public schools, then they also need to follow the same rules and that’s the way you can have true competition,” Ankeny parent Kerry Lust said.
Lust is a parent of three. One of her children lives with autism. She said that if the bill passes, private schools will have the power to turn her son away. And Lust isn’t the only Ankeny parent speaking out against the bill.
“It is going to greatly affect a lot of other Iowans. I would hope that the Republicans would understand that the first thing as a society that we should do is do everything we can to give our kids the absolute best chance to be successful and not just some of them but all of them,” said Ankeny parent Lori Bullock.
Betty Andrews, the president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, also spoke out against the bill.
The bill passed the Iowa Senate last week by a vote of 26-21. It now moves on to the Iowa House. Reynolds is a supporter of the bill and has promised to sign it.