DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) — Governor Kim Reynolds’ private school voucher bill failed to see the House debate floor this session; but Iowa Republican lawmakers did pass open enrollment legislation for public schools.
In the final budget that was passed in the House and Senate, an amendment was added late in the night Tuesday. House File 2589 included the amendment that removes the March 1 open enrollment deadline for public school districts.
After two years of failing to pass private school vouchers, Republican leadership said that this bill was the next logical step. The bill allows a student to transfer to a different school district any time of the year, but the school district has to accept the transfer.
“So obviously with the other school choice pieces not passing this year, we thought that was a logical step to continue to allow parents to have as much choice as possible while staying within the public school system,” said Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, (R) from Ankeny.
Senate Republicans had passed the private school voucher bill weeks ago, but the bill was never brought to the floor of the House due to the lack of votes. But striking down the open enrollment deadline is something House Republicans wanted to pass to give parents more options.
“We think the parents need to have that opportunity if they want to send their child to another educational institution that they should have that,” said Speaker of the House Pat Grassley, (R) from New Hartford. “School districts shouldn’t be able to wait until after the deadline to do things that the individuals that live in those communities don’t support.”
Democrats opposed the amendment in both chambers during debate on Tuesday. The main argument for the party was that this will hurt school funding and that this is not better for the students.
“The fact that they are throwing out that deadline and allowing people to transfer for anytime or any reason seems to me to be a reaction of some political things that are happening around the state and not something that is in the best interest in kids,” said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, (D) from Windsor Heights.
Konfrst also added that the March 1 deadline was in place for school districts to finalize their funding and hiring for the upcoming school year; operating with the knowledge of how many students will be enrolled. Another group that opposed the bill was the Iowa Association of School Boards, but they say there is a positive spin on the legislation.
“I would say that we are very frustrated that we continue to see an erosion of local control and local decision making,” said Emily Piper, a lobbyist at the Iowa Association of School Boards. “On the flip side, I am not sure if this will have the dramatic effect that the legislators and governor think that it will, with respect to school choice.”
Piper said that transfers around the March deadline were not massive amounts, and there was a chance the bill wouldn’t be used by parents and students.