Senate Democratic Leader praises Iowa public schools,
rejects private school vouchers legislation
Surprise Bipartisan Opposition to “Radical” Private School Vouchers Bill
DES MOINES – In an impassioned speech, Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls rejected the private school vouchers bill being advanced by Governor Kim Reynolds and Iowa Republicans that would create a private school voucher program and drain millions of dollars away from Iowa’s public schools.
“Public Education makes Iowa great. We cannot give up on our public schools,” Wahls said. “Iowa students are worth our investment. Our communities depend on them and our state depends on them.”
A video and the full transcript of Senators Wahls’ remarks are included below.
Wahls questioned why Governor Reynolds and legislative Republicans are using the COVID19 pandemic as an excuse to fast-track legislation that would establish a private school voucher program with no academic standards and no accountability for taxpayer dollars.
“Iowa Democrats will not let this Governor use the COVID crisis to advance her private school agenda by taking resources away from students being educated in our public schools,” he said. “This 65-page bill was filed last week and it was fast-tracked this week. What on earth are we doing?! We shouldn’t be fast tracking this bill. We should be fast tracking legislation to accelerate vaccine distribution. We should be fast tracking legislation to protect essential workers.”
Senate Republicans approved the legislation – Senate File 159 – on a 26-21 vote, despite surprising bipartisan opposition, with all Democrats and Republican Senators Driscoll, Shipley, and Sweeney voting “no.”
Video of Senator Wahls’ speech: https://youtu.be/X6dE0PHtqpI
Here is the full text of Senator Wahls’ speech:
Remarks by Iowa Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls on Senate File 159
January 28, 2021
Public Education Makes Iowa Great.
We cannot give up on our public schools. Public schools and the amazing students we grow in Iowa are one of our most valuable resources.
Iowa students are worth our investment. Our communities depend on them and our state depends on them. When the pandemic is over, go to a job fair in another state and anyone can see that our nation depends on Iowa students. COVID is a huge challenge but our young Iowans are showing up adapting and innovating in the classroom — in person and virtually — through the arts, and on the fields and courts. Our long history of investing in Iowa students through public education is part of who we are as Iowans. And Republicans used to agree with Democrats about this. Terry Branstad ran for Governor with the slogan: “Iowa: A State of Minds.” Today, however, Iowa Republicans want Iowa to be more like other states — instead of other states being more like Iowa!
No. We have to keep investing in public schools because our students are worth it. Our teachers are dedicated and our public school districts and community leadership are what make us strong. We need to invest more in our schools as a result of COVID, not less.
As to private education, there’s nothing wrong with private education. I’ve attended mostly public schools in my life, but I have attended a private school. There is nothing wrong with private education. There’s even a role for homeschooling. But the idea that we would take away resources away from public education to improve how we educate our students is as out of touch as using taxpayer dollars to pave a private road we can’t drive on, to build a private golf course we can’t play on, or a private pool that our kids can’t swim in? Why on Earth would we give private schools taxpayer dollars that don’t have the mandate, the commitment, the responsibility educating all of our students. Our students are one of our best resources. Not just some Iowa students — all Iowa students. That’s why we invest in public education. We believe in every student, in every community, and the local leadership, democratically elected, who work together across our state to educate them. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we need more of this community not less of it. We need more resources for our public schools, not less. If Republicans want to raise taxes to provide more resources for alternatives to public education—we can have that debate. But Iowa Democrats will not let this Governor use the COVID crisis to advance her private school agenda by taking resources away from students being educated in our public schools. This sixty-five page bill was filed last week and it was fast-tracked this week. What on earth are we doing?! We shouldn’t be fast tracking this bill. We should be fast tracking legislation to accelerate vaccine distribution. We should be fast tracing legislation to protect essential workers. Instead, just yesterday, the Governor said during her press conference to Iowans: be patient! She wants Iowans to be patient when it comes to a vaccine but she’s driving a freight train when it comes to private school vouchers.
Can a single Iowa Republican Senator name one public school superintendent in their district who is in favor of Senate File 159? Where is their voice in all of this? I asked all seven of my super intendents, the majority of which are in rural districts. Not a single one supports this legislation. And I know that I’m the Senator from Johnson County, but this legislation wasn’t supported by superintendents in Cedar County or Muscatine County either. In fact, one of the thirty-four schools named by this legislation is in my district. Durant Elementary School is in a small town, like so many across our state. I asked their Superintendent what he thought about this bill. He said: “Vouchers are an absolute no, another blow to public education.” And that’s from the people who this bill is trying to help! Iowa Democrats believe in continuing to invest in public schools, because there is no better return on investment. Iowa Republicans, on the other hand, are fast tracking a partisan, private school voucher program in the middle of a global pandemic.
I urge the body to reject this radical legislation.