DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she won’t force state lawmakers to stay in session until the end of June while hoping they’ll approve her proposal to shift funding to public school taxpayers to private school scholarships.
But Reynolds also said she’s not yet ready to give up on the possibility of Republican lawmakers passing the bill and sending it to her desk. So the Iowa Legislature will continue its work this week, with virtually every other policy issue decided.
The legislative session has already passed the 100-day mark, when legislators’ compensation for room and board costs expired. But this is more of a carrot for entire lawmakers to complete their work than a strict deadline.
The state budget year ends on June 30; lawmakers must pass a new $8.2 billion budget before then to keep state government funded and functioning.
Speaking to reporters last week, Reynolds said she continues to meet with Republican lawmakers who have expressed opposition to her proposal, and continues to consider tweaks and concessions in hopes of securing enough votes to pass it through the Iowa House, where it is stranded. for a second consecutive year.
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“We are still working on it. We are still talking to lawmakers,” Reynolds told reporters in West Des Moines. “There’s no way I’m giving up. They are still in session. I’m always working.”
But she also said she wouldn’t keep lawmakers on so long that funding the next fiscal year would become a potential issue.
“I’m not going to shut down (the state government) if that’s what you’re asking me. … We’re not going to do that,” Reynolds said. “I will give him all the effort. I feel like I still have an opportunity. … But at some point, you just have to realize that you’re at an impasse. If we get there, we review the budget, then we go home and I continue to work on it in the interim. I’ll come back next year with that, if I can’t. I strongly believe in what I’m working on.
The proposal, as passed by Senate Republicans, would allow up to 10,000 students from families at or below 400% of the federal poverty level to receive a scholarship of about $5,500 to attend a private school. . The money would come from state funding dedicated to the public school the student would have attended, or about $7,700 per student. A portion of the remaining funding per student would be paid into a state account to help small rural schools that could lose several students and therefore a significant percentage of their funding.
The proposal, Senate File 2369, passed the Iowa Senate by a vote of 31 to 18 with only Republican support. It was not debated in the Iowa House because not enough of the 60 House Republicans are willing to vote for it. It would take 51 votes to pass the House of 100 members.
The provision that would set aside funding for small rural schools was a concession made by Reynolds after last year’s proposal failed largely due to opposition from House Republicans who represent rural districts with small schools. Another possible compromise proposed this year would set a base enrollment level at which schools would be eligible. Such a provision would theoretically make the state’s smaller schools ineligible for the program and, supporters hope, make it a “yes” vote more palatable to some House Republicans.
“I’m willing to listen to a lot of suggestions that maybe (House Republican resisters) have to push this through and start a pilot program,” Reynolds said.
Democrats have remained united in their opposition to the proposal, whatever form it takes. No Democrats voted for the Senate bill, and there is no indication they would in the House.
Democrats say the proposal would put public schools at risk by diverting state funding to private school scholarships.
“It is clear and important to point out that the reason Republicans have such a hard time getting votes on vouchers, other than the fact that vouchers are bad for Iowa kids and Iowa communities, it’s the fact that Democrats are united against school vouchers,” said Rep. Jennifer Konfrst, House Minority Leader for Windsor Heights. “They have to fish in the Republican caucus because no Democrat will support school vouchers because we know they’re bad for the kids in Iowa.”
Some House Republicans are already facing political pressure over their stance on the legislation.
Rep. Jon Thorup, a Republican from Knoxville, said about a week ago in a statement to the Des Moines office of The Gazette that he would vote against the bill due to uncertainty in Iowa and the world, and that a new state law would significantly reduce state income taxes and could impact future state revenues.
Then the prominent and politically active conservative political action organization Americans for Prosperity announced a series of endorsements for the Statehouse races, and among them was its endorsement of Barb Kniff-McCulla, a Republican candidate who challenges Thorup in the primary election.
In a press release, Americans for Prosperity specifically cited the candidate’s support for the governor’s private school tuition assistance proposal.
When asked if she would use her political capital or resources to fight the election of Republicans who would not vote for the bill, Reynolds said she spends her time defending the bill.
“I’m there to defend one of my priorities, and this is one of my priorities,” Reynolds said. “I will, of course, look for candidates who support some of my priorities, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”