***Democrat Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst routinely refers to Education Savings Accounts as vouchers throughout her legislative newsletter. ESAs are not vouchers. It is worth noting there is a difference.***
After the 2023 legislative session opened on Monday, the Governor gave the annual Condition of the State Address on Tuesday morning to a special joint session of the Iowa Legislature.
The centerpiece of her speech again this year was vouchers, which failed to win support from state lawmakers last year. The idea is the same as last year, using taxpayer dollars to send kids to private schools, but this year she’s expanded it to every kid already in private school and removed income limits.
While the issue is controversial, it really isn’t a partisan fight between Republicans and Democrats. That’s because a strong majority of Iowans – Republicans, Democrats and Independents – believe that public money belongs in public schools.
The more Iowans learn about the voucher proposal, the more opposition there is to it. That’s why the Governor and legislative leaders are trying to fast-track the bill through the Iowa Legislature this session.
Iowans prize our deep history of strong public schools and believe every kid in Iowa deserves a world-class education. They see the Governor’s voucher program as fundamentally unfair to most Iowa kids, especially in rural areas. Here’s why:
- 75% of public schools are in rural areas with no access to private schools, leaving those kids with no choice at all.
- 134 schools have already closed in Iowa, and diverting money from public schools to private schools will only force more closures in rural areas.
- Private school vouchers don’t benefit every Iowa kid equally. Public schools accept all kids regardless of zip code, while private schools are allowed to pick only the kids they want.
- Millionaires in Des Moines would get $100,000 of our tax dollars to send their kids to private school.
While we’re still waiting for the final estimates from our nonpartisan fiscal agency, the price tag for the first five-years of the voucher program is likely to be around $1 billion. That’s a pretty hefty price tag considering the state general fund budget this year was about $9.8 billion.
Given those facts, it’s no surprise my inbox is being flooded with messages from Iowans registering their opposition to the Governor’s voucher plan this week. It’s also no surprise that the strongest opposition comes from Iowans who live in rural areas and are terrified their local school may shut down.
While the Governor wants this done fast, it’s only fair that Iowans get to weigh in and offer their thoughts on this new plan. As lawmakers, our job is to listen to the people in our districts and do what’s best for them.
If you are an Iowan concerned about the impact vouchers will have on the kids in your local public school, I’d encourage you to make your voice heard as soon as possible.
You can find your lawmaker and contact them directly here. Iowans are also welcome to come to the State Capitol for a special voucher public hearing on Tuesday, January 17th at 5 pm or participate in the public hearing by registering your opposition to the bill online here.
While some of the political pundits are already claiming this voucher fight is over, they’re wrong. Iowans are overwhelmingly opposed to this and they’re just starting to stand up for their kids and grandkids.