‘This is going to change our life.’ How Iowans reacted to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ school choice law

Students and parents came to Iowa’s Capitol in droves to celebrate the passage of a comprehensive school choice bill. 

With governor’s signature on Tuesday, Iowa become the second state after Arizona to pass a universal school choice program, The Lion reported.

“We will fund students, not systems!” Gov. Kim Reynolds tweeted. “Parents, not the government, can now choose the education setting best suited to their child regardless of their income or zip code.”

While some worry the program will hurt public schools, research cited by EdChoice shows school choice programs create “fiscal savings for taxpayers” and leave public schools with “a significant portion of money for a student they no longer have the responsibility of educating.” In Iowa, the new law will actually give public schools around $1,205 per student living in their district, regardless of whether they enroll in the school – and districts will still receive funding from local and federal sources. 

Nonetheless, some lawmakers and school administrators still complained. 

“Iowa public schools are already wildly underfunded,” claimed Rep. Ken Croken, D-Scott County. “Now we will divert even more money from our public schools into the private school system. And I think our children will pay that price.”  

“The vouchers will have no financial accountability,” said Chad Janzen, superintendent of the Sergeant Bluff-Luton Community School District. “There will be no oversight of how those funds will be spent versus at public schools.”  

But private school administrators were excited about the possibility of low-income or special needs students being able to afford a high-quality education.

“We have no doubt that this is going to help a lot of our families,” said John Flanery, president of Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools. “We have a lot of low-income families, a lot of families that work paycheck to paycheck and month to month and struggle to pay tuition.”  

Siouxland Christian School’s current tuition is $7,600 – the same as the new scholarship – meaning parents could send their child to the private school for virtually free. Lindsay Laurich, the school’s superintendent, said it doesn’t intend to raise tuition even though parents will have access to school choice scholarships.  

Dan Zylstra, head of school for Pella Christian, also expressed his hope that state funding would enable his school to serve more special needs students.  

“We have licensed special education teachers and we provide a lot of supports,” Zylstra said. “But if there was more funding that accompany these students, which is what this bill does, we hope that allows us to service more of those students.”  

Many parents were also for the bill.  

“That is where our focus should be: on Iowa students,” said Miquel Hadsall, a mother of six. “Regardless of their income, regardless of their zip code, regardless of their faith. It’s Iowa students and it should be all of them. Unfortunately, [a] one-size-fits-all public school setting is not for everyone.”  

Shari Smith, a single mother and public school paraeducator, kept it short and sweet: 

“This is going to change our life.”