For at least the last two years, conservative lawmakers in Iowa have worked toward providing families with Education Savings Accounts to help offset education expenses and expand school choice. These efforts, though, have died in the Iowa House.
Following back-to-back policy defeats, Gov. Kim Reynolds decided in 2022 to throw her support behind candidates in House races who supported ESAs and were up against candidates that weren’t supportive.
She was largely successful.
It was suspected that with June’s victories, and November’s “red wave,” ESAs would be a foregone conclusion for Iowa families.
But what we have heard from House Republicans could throw a giant wrench into the plans. We have heard House Republicans are straying from ESAs and instead planning to shoot for vouchers.
Just the term “voucher” is a lightning rod. It lacks much support, even from those who support ESAs. There are a few key differences between vouchers and ESAs. But one of the main differences is in a system using ESAs, dollars go from the government, to the family, to where ever the family uses those dollars for education. Vouchers would send money straight from the government to an institution.
On Wednesday night, there was a pre-session legislative forum of sorts with four lawmakers in northwest Iowa. The topic of ESAs came up, and Republican State Rep. Tom Jeneary signaled a shift in House conversations from ESAs to vouchers.
“They said the money would not go to the individual student, it would go to the institution,” Jeneary said.
Jeneary was asked if that is this year’s plan. He said yes. This would signal the House’s plan this year is then to transition away from any ESA proposal and instead attempt to pass a voucher plan.
Republican Senators Jeff Taylor and Kevin Alons immediately expressed concern over that strategy.
“One of the education things I went to, they talked about the key was that you’re giving it to the parents. It’s for the student, it goes to the parent, otherwise, you end up with all kinds of strings attached,” Alons said. “If it goes to the institution, now the institution is directly connected to the government and then there’s all that excessive risk and now the government is going to dictate curriculum.”
“I think that’s a mistake,” Sen. Taylor said.
“Yeah, that is a mistake for sure,” Sen. Alons said. “The path is wrong. It’d be hard to be in support of that.”
Jeneary expressed skepticism at the difference between vouchers and ESAs.
“Tell me the last time that the government gave you any money that there wasn’t any strings attached to it,” he asked. “So whether they give it to the institution or the student, maybe not this year, but you’d better believe there’s going to be strings attached to it in the future. There will be. I mean, there just will be.”