Public money for private schools? Quad-Cities teachers say no way

Gov. Reynolds says she wants Iowa families to have more school choices
Reynolds says she wants families to have more school choices
Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 11:30 AM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Gov. Kim Reynolds introduced her legislative agenda this week – the policies she wants lawmakers to enact in Des Moines this spring.

Top among them is her plan to give public money to families who want to attend private schools.

The governor says all children, not only those from wealthy families, should have the freedom and funds to attend schools of their choice.

But critics, including some members of her own party, worry the plan will ruin the state’s public school system.

Toby Paone is a Davenport-based representative for the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

“It’s totally an attack on public education and public schools in Iowa,” Paone said. “For the past 15 years, public schools in Iowa have received less than the rate of inflation in terms of school funding. This is drowning public schools in the bathtub.”

He said Reynolds’ plan will just push the burden for funding schools onto local property taxpayers.

Reynolds proposes making $7,598 available to each student to use at any school, the same sum the state allocates for a child in public schools. The option would initially be given to lower-income children who want to attend a private school. After three years, it would be available to all.

It’s expected to cost at least $106 million in its first year.

Democrats and the teachers union hope to block the legislation.

“We’re trying to convince people in the majority, the Republican Party – and Democrats, who are in the minority – that this is going to hurt communities all across Iowa,” Paone said.

“It’s a discriminatory practice, in our opinion, and it doesn’t lead to any accountability for our public tax dollars.”

This is the third time Reynolds has sought public money for private schools. Her prior attempts failed because some Republicans in the Legislature broke with the party. Reynolds’ latest proposal has a better chance this year because Republicans hold more seats.

In her speech to legislators, Reynolds also proposed:

  • A program for training teachers on the “science of reading” to help improve elementary schools’ reading proficiency
  • Allowing schools to use money unspent in other programs toward teacher salaries
  • Expand a program focused on pregnant women to include fathers, especially “at-risk dads,” and school-age boys
  • Increasing funding for a health care apprenticeship program from $3 to $15 million
  • Increased penalties for people selling or possessing fentanyl
  • Limit awards given in lawsuits against health care systems

The Associated Press contributed to this report.