by Sharon Steckman, Iowa House District 59
We are now about to reach the end of the second week of the 90th Assembly. Two of the committees on which I serve (Education and State Government) have already been assigned a number of bills. Education has 19 bills currently assigned to subcommittees with two more pending. Every subcommittee has to be composed of two majority party members and one minority party member. With just eight minority party members on the full committee, each one of them will be handling several subcommittee assignments as the year progresses.
Tuesday evening, there was a Public Hearing on the Voucher/ESA Bill. Of the fourteen hundred comments that were posted on the website, 73% were against using public money for private schools. During the hearing itself, the chair tried to alternate pro and con speakers, but toward the end of the meeting, it was obvious that they were having difficulty finding enough pro speakers.
I hope my fellow legislators are listening to their constituents. The estimated cost will be close to 1 Billion dollars by the 3rd year after passage. Yes, that is a “B”. This is beyond the $100 million we are already spending on private schools alone. I heard at the public hearing and through the hundreds of emails I received, it is the private schools that are able to make the choices, not the parents. These schools can accept, reject or kick out any student they choose to and they are accountable to no one for their choices.
We learned Wednesday night that the bill will come to the House floor on Monday, the 24th and it will also be debated in the Senate that same day. Because the majority party has just changed the rule that would require that this bill would be passed by both the Ways and Means and the Appropriations committees, it is on a very fast track. In Rules, any bill that involves spending must be sent to these committees for added oversight and transparency. Fast tracking this very important bill in the House and Senate leaves absolutely no room for transparency and oversight, much less for additional citizen input.
This bill is especially harmful both economically and educationally to rural Iowa where 75% of school districts have no access to a private school. Funds pulled away from our rural schools to fund this scheme will hit the heart of our small towns.
This year, the Governor’s voucher plan was expanded to send funding to anyone attending private school, no matter their income. She removed all income limits starting with the 3rd year – meaning millionaires in Des Moines will be receiving tax dollars to continue to send their kids to private schools. So a family of six living in an expensive home in Des Moines with a summer home on Clear Lake will receive $30,392 of your tax dollars.
Please…if you are opposed to this bill, contact legislators over the weekend. You can find their email addresses and phone numbers on the Iowa Legislature webpage: www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find
Please let your voice be heard and save our public schools.