The Iowa Legislature is officially in overtime. And there’s no end in sight.
The Speaker of the House sent everyone home over a week ago and hasn’t called us back yet. The Iowa Senate brought folks back to the Capitol earlier this week, but they all left before taking any action on the one thing the Legislature is required to do every year: pass a state budget.
For Iowans, it’s just a reminder of everything they hate about politics today. More bickering than working. Listening to the special interests instead of real people. Politicians are wasting our tax dollars because they can’t get their work done on time.
The stalemate at the State Capitol still seems to be centered on school vouchers.
With Democrats in the House and Senate unified against it, the battle over vouchers is an internal fight among Republican politicians. Senate Republicans are demanding the House pass vouchers and won’t finish the session until it’s done.
Governor Reynolds is also twisting arms at the Capitol to get it done. With her eye on higher office, she’s trying to keep up with other Republican governors and pacify the most extreme elements in her party that she needs to make a run at the GOP nomination.
But there is also bi-partisan opposition. While it’s unclear exactly how many Republican lawmakers are opposed to vouchers, the number seems to be growing every day. It includes several Republican lawmakers from rural areas who understand vouchers don’t give kids or parents in the communities any choices at all. It actually takes away opportunities from their kids.
The Governor is trying to sell her voucher plan as “choice” in education. While her plan may benefit up to 2% of kids in public schools, it comes at the expense of the other 98%. That’s because shifting millions of state dollars out of public schools will result in more school closings and larger class sizes.
The reality is Iowa taxpayers already contribute a significant amount to support nonpublic schools for things like busing, textbooks, and tuition assistance. Over the last six years, state funding for private schools and homeschools has increased by 150 percent while state funding for public schools has barely kept up with rising costs. This year alone, more than 100 million of our public tax dollars will already be spent to support non-public schools.
While the homeschool and private school lobbyists pushing vouchers may be the most vocal, most Iowans believe that public money is for public schools. And the more Iowans learn about the voucher scheme, the less they like it.
Despite the enormous political pressure and gamesmanship going on at the State Capitol right now, I don’t see a path for vouchers to become law this year. That’s because Iowans can see through the politics and recognize a bad idea when they see it.
The “choice” a strong majority of Iowans have already made on vouchers is simple: no.