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Governor Reynolds rolls out sweeping school choice proposal

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL)- In a 66-page bill introduced on Wednesday, Governor Kim Reynolds laid out sweeping school choice reforms to give parents more options on where they send their kids to school.

Senate Study Bill 1065 is an omnibus bill that tackles a handful of school choice issues, including school vouchers and charter schools.

"Our parents need choice, and it’s not just in-person versus virtual," Governor Reynolds said during her annual Condition of the State speech earlier this month. "Sometimes, it’s about which school to attend altogether."

Among the key components of the bill:

  • The bill would establish a state-funded school voucher scholarship program for public school students who want to attend private school.
  • Makes open enrollment available in all districts.
  • Removing voluntary diversity plans for some larger school districts.

Another provision of the bill prevents new charter schools from being created.

There are currently only two state-authorized charter schools in Iowa. One is in Storm Lake and the other is in Maynard.

While supporters of the bill say it gives parents and students more options, Democrat State Sen. Eric Giddens said it hurts public schools.

"All of those provisions are bad for public education in this state," he said.

"I really want what's best for our students. These things are not what's best for public education or our students, our families, our communities, and businesses."

In a statement released after the Condition of the State address, Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said some of the Governor's provisions were bad for schools and the communities they serve.

"Now more than ever, spending vital taxpayer dollars on private schools, when our public schools need more resources to better address the needs of nearly half a million students during the pandemic, fails to benefit the majority of Iowans. Our public schools have broadly and completely served communities across the state. Food pantries, school supplies, books, take-home games, and other items for students and families who were shut-in have been the lifeline for many. Private school vouchers are a stab in the heart of Iowa's communities, the lion share of which do not have access to and would not benefit from non-public options."

Mike Beranek, Iowa State Education Association President

Reynolds said school choice had the potential to raise the quality of all schools.

"School choice shouldn’t be limited to those who have the financial means or are lucky to live in a district that’s confident enough to allow open enrollment," she said. "We have and will continue to prioritize school funding while many other states are cutting their education budgets."

Republicans are expected to move quickly on the bill. It will go before a Senate education subcommittee at 10:30 Monday morning.

State lawmakers are also expected to debate the governor's return to learn legislation this week. It would require every school district in the state to offer an option for 100% in-person learning.