The school choice movement is gaining momentum, but one obstacle continues to be Republicans in the suburbs and some rural areas who are allied with the teachers unions. They mistakenly figure their schools are fine and they’ve already exercised choice by where they live. That’s why a reform rebellion this month in Iowa’s Republican primaries deserves broader attention.
has made school choice a priority, and this spring the state Senate passed her bill to create up to 10,000 scholarships a year for education expenses, including private school tuition. Students with an individual program for special education needs or in families with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level could receive more than $5,000 a year.
But the legislation died in the state House, though it’s controlled by Republicans. House leaders lacked enough support for the bill to bring it to a vote.
The Governor isn’t giving up, however, and she and reformers made school choice an issue in Republican primaries. Four challengers she endorsed won their primaries, including a challenger to the chairman of the House education committee who fought her bill.
Ms. Reynolds told a Des Moines radio show that she took this step “because of the gut-wrenching stories that I hear from parents and what their kids are being subjected to, and they really just want a quality education.” She added that “parents deserve to have the choice of what environment is best suited for their children to thrive, and we have it already, but it’s only for those who can afford it.”
Other school-choice candidates running for open seats also won, several with Ms. Reynolds’s endorsement. Eight House candidates backed by the American Federation for Children Action Fund, which supports school-choice candidates, won their races. A ninth race, for a Senate seat, is headed to a recount.
This is big political news, and it shows that school choice is emerging as a winning electoral issue in the wake of the unpopular pandemic school shutdowns and union-led ideological instruction. If the GOP holds its legislative majorities in November, and Ms. Reynolds wins re-election, 2023 could be a big year for school reform in Iowa. The union political monopoly can be broken with the right leadership and reform message.
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Appeared in the June 18, 2022, print edition as ‘A School Choice Shake-Up in Iowa.’