Lawmakers discuss “Student First Act” ahead of next weeks debate

Published: Jan. 21, 2023 at 7:51 PM CST
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HIAWATHA, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa lawmakers are days away from debating Governor Kim Reynolds’s school voucher plan known as the “Student First Act.”

The proposal would create tax-payer-funded education savings accounts with more than $7,500 a year for each student to pay for tuition. The issue was one of many discussed at a League of Women Voter Legislative forms Saturday.

“I find it hard to believe that rural schools, rural taxpayers want to subsidize private schools in the area,” said Mary Airy of Cedar Rapids.

Airy is a retired educator with nearly forty years of experience. She worried not just about rural Iowans having similar access to private schools, but also about how quickly the bill is moving.

“It feels to me like the collective bargaining piece that happened in 2017,” she said.

Democratic lawmakers on hand gave similar reasons for opposing the bill.

“What we’re really talking about is our resources, class sizes, teachers, counselors, and mental health,” said Senator Liz Bennett. “That serves the majority of our Iowa students.”

“There’s a number of counties that don’t have private schools within 90 miles driving distance one way; that’s insane,” said newly elected Democratic Representative Sami Scheetz.

The Governor’s office said the bill could cost more than $100 million in the first year. Most of the lawmakers Saturday were Democrats, but the Republican party holds the majority in both the house and senate.

“Sometimes, I feel powerless,” said Susan Vanwoert, a former educator.

Senator Charlie McClintock was the only Republican lawmaker to attend the meeting and discuss the voucher bill.

“I ran on three principles as the legislature, and this is the best answer you’re going to get out of me today,” he said. “I will vote the district, and if the district was indifferent to it, I would vote on the way that I want to as a member of the district and I would vote with my caucus. I can tell you the jury is still out there. We’re breaking everything down into categories using all the information that’s coming in, that’s phone calls, people I’ve talked to, emails.”

While debate is scheduled to start next week, Airy worried this bill was only the beginning.

“I think the third year proposal, when everyone can apply for private school, I think there will be for-profit companies coming in to offer private schools.”