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Pretty quiet up at the Capitol, no big bills or anything… just kidding, currently buried under a zillion emails, phone calls and texts as this “part-time” legislature hits full steam. I always heard stories about when the collective bargaining bill went through and how the sky was falling, and the Capitol was (figuratively) on fire. Now, legislators that were around for that are comparing the two in ferocity of responses from the unions. I’ll hand it to the teacher’s unions, they’re great at marketing and riling up the base. There are a lot of “flag planters” on both sides of this issue, but I don’t believe this issue/bill is as black and white as they think, there’s a lot of grey and ways to improve it. [ESA bill – HF 68 – you can read the bill on legis.Iowa.gov]

A big one for me was affordability. Could we, not just next year, but extrapolated beyond implementation afford a bill like this and continue to keep investing and even fight for a raise in public schools? I’m a visual learner and these graphs (below) put into perspective the state investments being talked about and The ESA spending compared to the Public School spending. The blue is public school spending and the orange the ESA spending:

I had two forums on Saturday, unfortunately missing my daughter’s basketball games, but I hear she did great and thank the volunteer coaches and parents that step up in those absences. There were stark contrasts in the forums, both seemed fueled by the ESA argument. In Greenfield, they were heavily against the bill and in Winterset, they were heavily for the bill. Earlier in the week I met with the Superintendents and some school board members in the district and they, like most public-school employees, stand against the bill. I asked them; “If passed, how could I make this better for you all?”. I’ve worked on some changes they mentioned with our leadership to continue leveling the playing field. Amendments for clarifying opening categorical funds for hiring teachers and raising salaries, as well as, operational sharing. We’ll see how much we can get done before and after this bill is voted on to make sure our public schools have what they need to succeed.

I have received a lot of correspondence on this bill, many folks being civil, and a few who are condescending and awful. If you want a response, first be from my district (there are 100 Representatives and 50 Senators for a reason, we can’t respond to everyone), and second, be civil. It always amazes me how close-minded folks are when they plant their flag on an issue, everything from the opposition is lies and slander to, amazingly, their echo chamber preaches only the gospel truth. I like to keep my door and mind open to both sides and weigh the unintended (and sometimes intended) consequences of each piece of legislation.

For me, this bill is not my favorite, but I do think it has some merit, primarily that state funds will follow the student and not the institution, that for families that may be stuck, this could be their ticket to a better education that was otherwise unaffordable. My reservations are with how level the playing field will be, and that even the very wealthy would eventually be able to access the ESA after year three of implementation. I have heard amazing testimony from families for and against this bill and will weigh them heavily as I prepare to vote, probably next week.

Contrary to what it may seem, work on other bills continues at the Capitol as well. Subcommittee meetings are in full swing and those are important as that is the public’s opportunity to officially weigh in on bills making their way through the process. There is a slew of Education bills on the docket addressing everything from teacher shortages to prohibiting gender identity and sex instruction to children, kindergarten through 3rd grade (again, probably some of the inspiration behind the ESA bill).

In Economic Growth & Technology, we are working on a group of cybersecurity and ransomeware bills with a big consumer data protection bill. All will make their way through the process, and I’ve been hearing from industry experts since last year on all the changes and additions they’d like to see in these bills.

Author: Ray Sorensen


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