Inside the Iowa House: Despite Strong Opposition, Governor Signs Voucher Bill

Jennifer Konfrst: State Representative Jennifer Konfrst of Windsor Heights serves the 32nd District in the Iowa House and is the Iowa House Democratic Leader.

Despite Iowans speaking out in record numbers in opposition, Governor Reynolds signed her voucher bill into law on Tuesday. The bill, which takes away resources from public schools and gives it to private schools instead, takes effect quickly for new kids entering private schools in the Fall of 2023.

The bill was fast-tracked this session because the Governor and legislative leaders at the State Capitol know vouchers are extremely unpopular.

Iowans made that abundantly clear in just two short weeks through thousands and thousands of emails, calls, and visits to the State Capitol. Over 10,000 Iowans signed a petition telling state lawmakers to stop vouchers.

While I’ve only been in the Iowa House for a few terms, I’ve received more communications from Iowans on this bill than anything else, with well over 90% of those folks in opposition. The reasons for their opposition varies, but most Iowans think it just isn’t fair.

For a kid in one of the 75% of public schools in a rural area that has no private school, there is no “choice” for them at all. Their rural public school actually ends up with fewer state resources because private schools, mostly in urban areas, will get a bigger share of state dollars first.

For the autistic kid who needs some additional support at school, a private school can just deny their application. Parents don’t actually get to choose, private schools pick and choose the kids they want. They can discriminate and deny any kid for any reason.

If you were one of the thousands of Iowans who contacted state lawmakers about vouchers, thank you for speaking up and sharing your thoughts. At its core, our job is to listen to you and represent you at the State Capitol. In the case of vouchers, it’s pretty clear that not enough state lawmakers took that to heart this time because the message you sent to state lawmakers was an unmistakable NO to vouchers.

I’ve heard from some folks that this is just another partisan fight between Republicans and Democrats. That just isn’t the case. All Democratic lawmakers were indeed opposed to the Governor’s voucher bill, but 12 Republican state lawmakers also voted no. And my inbox was flooded from Iowans of all parties in every county in Iowa.

When I talked to a few of those Republican lawmakers after the vote, they told me they listened to their constituents, who overwhelmingly told them no vouchers. They ignored all the politics at the State Capitol and pressure from the Governor, who threatened retaliation like she did last year to lawmakers who didn’t agree with her.

That’s how it is supposed to work up here. Lawmakers should always listen to their constituents first, especially on an issue like vouchers when so many Iowans are engaged. State lawmakers aren’t employed by the Governor, and they don’t serve at the will of another political leader.

As this voucher debate unfolded, more and more Iowans got frustrated and angry. Not just because they believe vouchers are wrong but because state lawmakers weren’t listening to them. For many, it confirmed everything they despise about politics these days.

If more state lawmakers had listened to their constituents and put people over politics, the voucher bill would never have become law.