Why we filed our ethics complaint against Rep. Dean Fisher

I went to the State Capitol on February 28 with two other Iowa CCI members to file an official ethics complaint against State Representative Dean Fisher (R-District 53), a member of the Iowa House. Fisher was a key player in helping Gov Kim Reynolds pass her private school voucher legislation in 2023. He campaigned on vouchers, he voted for vouchers, and now he is trying to cash in on them with his new private school in Tama County. That’s not right. He’s violating the public trust.

Iowa CCI members believe in good government. Once we learned about Fisher’s new private school and his plan to use vouchers to pay the bulk of its operating expenses, we had to take action.

Our ethics complaint is pretty simple. The House’s Code of Ethics states that legislators have a duty “to uphold the integrity and honor of the general assembly, to encourage respect for the law and for the general assembly, and to observe the House code of ethics.” The ethics rules also bar conflicts of interest. Fisher’s actions are a clear violation of these rules. He has failed to uphold the integrity and honor of the Iowa General Assembly by setting up a private school that will benefit directly from the voucher legislation he helped pass.

Governor Reynolds tried to pass her private school voucher plan in 2021 and 2022, and finally got it done in early 2023. She was able to pass the bill after primarying several Republican legislators in June 2022. After redistricting, House District 53 pitted two Republican legislators against each other – anti-voucher David Maxwell and pro-voucher Dean Fisher. Fisher received Reynolds’ endorsement before the June 2022 primary and won handily. He went on to win in the November general election, and then voted for Reynolds’ voucher bill in January 2023.

Fisher then helped establish and became the Board President of the emerging Tama-Toledo Christian School. Fisher has stated publicly that his private school’s operating budget would not be possible without the vouchers he helped lead the charge for.

Vouchers – also known as Education Savings Accounts (ESA) – are currently worth $7,635 per student. When Fisher’s new school starts operating in 2025, he anticipates enrolling 120-160 students. That means his new school will use between $916,200 and $1.2 million of public dollars each year. That’s a lot of money, and it’s money he helped deliver when he voted for Reynolds’ voucher plan in January 2023. That’s why we filed our ethics complaint.

We’re asking the House Ethics Committee to tell Fisher he can’t use vouchers to fund his new private school. It’s self-dealing and self-serving. Some would say it’s corrupt. We’re also asking the Ethics Committee to tell other legislators that this kind of self-dealing behavior isn’t allowed. Politicians who voted for private school vouchers should not be allowed to profit from legislation they helped pass.

At Iowa CCI, we believe every child – no matter their zip code, background, race, gender, identity, or ability – has an equal right to a quality education. That means fully funding our public schools so every child gets a decent and honest education that prepares them for their future and an opportunity to pursue their dreams.

If you agree, you can sign our petition at www.iowacci.org/public-education to hold Rep. Dean Fisher accountable and protect our public schools and education system. Our democracy depends on it.

Barb Kalbach is a fourth generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at barbnealkalbach@gmail.com.