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School ‘voucher’ bill giving public money to private education passes narrowly through Iowa Senate

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DUBUQUE, Iowa. (KWWL) -- A new bill has passed through the Iowa Senate that would take taxpayer money set aside for public schools and give it directly to parents who want to send their child to private schools as a 'scholarship'.

After an hours-long debate, the bill passed Thursday evening by a vote of 26-21.

The fast-moving legislation is the end-result of a priority set by Governor Reynolds in this month's Condition of the State address.

The bill would make official her plan to provide $5,200 in state money directly to parents who want to send their kids to private or charter schools instead.

CONFLICTING VIEWS

Republicans say the bill gives parents more flexibility to choose, using their majority to fast-track the bill in the early weeks of the session.

Dubuque Community School District released a statement to parents opposing the bill. Superintendent Stan Rheingans, who calls the scholarships a "voucher program," fears the move would reduce their budget, potentially leading to program cuts and increased class sizes.

"We've got some concerns about public dollars going into private schools," Rheingans said. "When we reach a point where public schools are fully funded, and if schools receiving vouchers play under the same rules that we have, then I would have less of an argument."

Democrats, including Dubuque's Sen. Pam Jochum, think the public has not been given enough time to consider the ramifications of the bill.

AUDITOR: 'IOWANS SHOULD BE ALARMED'

State Auditor Rob Sand issued a statement Thursday (the day the bill was to be brought to the Senate) which reads:

"Iowans should be alarmed that the proposal for vouchers contains no independent audit provision, and in fact no audit requirement whatsoever."

"The public will have little ability to see what is happening with their tax dollars, and less protection from fraud and abuse. The charter school proposal, by contrast, maintains audit provisions consistent with today’s rigorous requirements for public schools."

Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand

"We would have no oversight into how that money is spent," Sand told KWWL.

Sen. Sarah Garriott (D-22) went further, telling the Senate she sees the "voucher" portion of the bill as "money laundering" intended to skirt equal rights protections for Iowa students.

ADVOCATES VOICE THEIR SUPPORT

Trish Wilger is the executive director of Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education. The organization states it is a "state affiliate" for CAPE, a "coalition of private elementary and secondary schools," which is itself bankrolled in part by the textbook industry.

Wilger pushed back against Sand's statement, saying she expects the Senate to incorporate a more robust accounting process for the funds.

"Certainly we would expect that there would be ways to keep track of the accounts, and make sure that everyone is doing the right thing," Wilger said.

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