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Three Republican members of the Iowa Senate voted against the Students First Act on Thursday. One of them, Sen. Annette Sweeney, had told a constituent in 2018 that she supports school choice and vouchers.

After Sweeney won the special election to claim the seat, a constituent congratulated her and asked her for her position on school choice.

“Thanks for the note,” Sweeney wrote. “I am in favor of school choice and vouchers. I supported them when I was in the House and support them still.”

But on Thursday, Sweeney joined GOP Senators Dawn Driscoll, a freshman, and Tom Shipley in opposition.

The Iowa Standard reached to Sweeney for an explanation, and she responded.

Sweeney said she couldn’t find the message after we sent her the screenshot.

“I’m seriously looking at my Facebook right now and any messages that have possibly been back and forth, I can’t find it,” she said.

Sweeney said she visited with her superintendents as well as the Governor’s office.

“Two superintendents I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve visited with them,” she said. “Division one of the bill, there were quite a few divisions of the bill that I was just fine with. Division one of the bill dealt with the Students First scholarship, I was all for that. I even suggested stripping that out and I’d have been more than happy to vote for that.”

Sweeney said there was a transportation issue, but that got fixed.

“We did make the bill better, but not as good as I had wished we would have,” she said.

The charter school idea is “great,” Sweeney said, but she’d like to see some of those ideas applied to public schools as well.

“This bill has started some really good conversations,” she added. “And my heart hurts so badly for those students who are in the schools that they can’t open enroll out of who want to or need to. That was what Division one of the bill covered and that’s one I was very, very happy with.”

Other concerns involving athletics were addressed as well, but ultimately, Sweeney said there were things she believed the rural schools needed to be addressed.

“I did teach at a private school, so my vote wasn’t anti-private schools,” she said. “In general, there were some good things about the bill. We need to include our rural schools in the dialogue. Our schools are not the failing schools – our schools that are serving our rural communities. I’m probably partial, but I’m very proud of the schools that are in my district. I still live in the district I grew up in. To my core, I believe in our rural schools and we need to make sure that we address positive things towards them.”

Author: Jacob Hall