Supporters of programs to expand state funding for various forms of non-public education rallied at the Iowa Capitol Wednesday along with hundreds of students.
They have been advocating for new laws that would give state money to students enrolling in private schools, among other initiatives. So far, their legislative priorities have not made it to the full House or Senate.
Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, says there is still time left in this legislative session to address those issues.
“We know it’s a difficult budget year, for one thing, and that makes it tough to do new programs and new initiatives. So we knew that going in that there was going to be a budget crunch, and it would be tough,” Wilger says. “We’re still optimistic though.”
The legislative session is scheduled to end in about two weeks, but it could go longer.
An “education savings grant” bill that’s still eligible for debate has yet to come up in the full Senate Appropriations Committee. It would allow parents to use some state funding to enroll their children in private schools.
Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, spoke at the rally. He chairs the House Education Committee and brought up a similar bill earlier this year.
“This year, the bill was introduced in my education committee,” Rogers said. “We were one vote short of getting it out of committee. One vote short. I don’t know where it is on the Senate side, but that’s farther than we’ve ever got on this bill.”
Rogers says he will keep working on this issue next year.
Three mothers who send their children to private school said they want all parents to have the option to choose the schools their children attend.
Opponents of such legislation argue these programs draw much-needed funding away from public schools and can lead to state-funded discrimination.
School choice supporters have also advocated for expanding Iowa’s tuition tax credit program that funds scholarships for private schools, and to allow private organizations to run charter schools. Wilger says there has not been movement on those topics during this legislative session.