One of the hot button issues of this week has been the issue of parental choice in education. Last week the Senate passed Senate File 159 dealing with several education-related issues including parental choice for families that reside in school districts that have low-performing schools. There are thirty-four school buildings in Iowa that are on this list of low performing schools, including two in our area, Anson and Rogers Elementary in Marshalltown.
This bill creates a student scholarship program that allows parents with children in these low performing schools to receive a scholarship for qualified education expenses, including tuition in a private school. These ESA’s would be funded from the state’s general fund. The total cost of this program is estimated at less than $3 million. When compared to the $3.15 billion that public education receives from the general fund, this program represents less than one-tenth of one percent of our funds going to education. Coupling that one-tenth of one percent with the fact that we will likely increase per pupil Supplemental State Aid again this year, it’s obvious this program will not be significant fiscally. However, this program will have a tremendous impact on those children that can benefit from greater parental choice in their education.
This bill also makes changes to make it easier to start a Charter School in Iowa, a form of public school. The current Charter School program in Iowa is overly cumbersome, only a few have been able to start up so far.
The education bureaucracy in Iowa has reacted to this education bill by propagating falsehoods about the scholarship program, implying that this would be available in every district statewide. That is false, this bill very narrowly tailors the program to those few schools that are not performing well academically. The House will continue to study and discuss this bill in the coming weeks.
I’ve also filed a bill, House Joint Resolution 8, that seeks to amend the Iowa Constitution to guarantee our right to Hunt, Fish, and Trap using traditional methods. I first proposed this bill several years ago, but it did not advance. I have high hopes that this year we can at least expand the discussion on this measure and hopefully get it passed this year or next, putting it on a path to go before the people of Iowa for a vote in 2024. Similar constitutional amendments have been passed in twenty other states in recent years.
On Wednesday of this week we debated House File 228, Parental Choice for Open Enrollment. This is a bill I talked about in my earlier newsletter this year, the bill that guarantees that all school districts allow open enrollment. Currently, five school districts have been able to block open enrollment based on a “diversity plan”. This bill is simply about equity and fairness, I believe all families across Iowa should have the same right for open enrollment regardless of where they live. Democrats in the Iowa House argued vehemently against this bill, asserting that denying the right to open enrollment in certain districts somehow supports “diversity”. However, while the original intent of this legislation may have been to desegregate schools, the true effects were that students were being trapped in situations that were not what was best for them. Parents and students know what the best education environment is for the student to be successful, and they should not be robbed of that experience because of their zip code.
Also this week I filed a bill requested by the Marshall County 911 department. The 911 emergency system has been funded by one dollar a month fee per phone line charge. The telephone companies are allowed to keep one percent of this fee to defray their costs for maintaining the 911 system, the other ninety-nine percent is passed on to fund the 911 emergency centers. However, also buried in the Iowa Code was an option for telephone companies to charge the 911 emergency centers an additional fee to defray the costs of maintaining the 911 system. Many local phone companies have been charging 911 centers thousands of dollars a month in unregulated charges. Sometimes, the costs are more than the surcharge brings in. This bill will eliminate the Iowa Code that allows these additional charges, restricting the phone companies to the one percent of the monthly fee and ensuring the cost of providing 911 service is on the telephone company, not on the backs of public safety. Given the actual effort needed to maintain the 911 system, the one percent seems more than adequate.