Where are we going in Iowa?
It was a long week at the Capitol this week starting off with the Governor’s “Student First Act” or voucher bill, as it was commonly referred to. The bill was voted on and passed on Monday in both the House and the Senate despite a great amount of opposition.
I received over 1000 emails concerning this bill. That is the most I have ever received on an issue in my time in the Iowa House. Of that 1000, over 91 percent were opposed to passing the voucher bill. I had approximately 70 emails that were for the voucher plan and well over 900 emails against the plan.
Who were the Republicans listening to? I could see they were getting the same emails that I received. Their names were in the distribution list. Did they just ignore 91 percent of the voters in their districts? Did they ignore the rural districts that cannot access these vouchers?
The emails were from people in our House District 52 and other counties and corners of the state. They were from Democrats, but also many Republicans, former Republicans (this vote being a catalyst issue) and Independent voters.
I spoke against the bill on the floor on Monday, citing my work with the Marshalltown Area Catholic School as a parent and a school board member/president. I shared how we started the tuition assistance program encouraging other members of our churches to contribute to help those who could not afford tuition costs for this faith-based, Christ-centered education.
I feel that is the strength of our private, religious schools in Marshalltown. They bring that religious component to the students and families who attend. I appreciate that and support them. They are excellent schools.
I feel that we need to fully fund our public schools before we provide vouchers to the private schools. The Senate proposed a 2 percent increase in Supplemental Student Aid (SSA) to bring new money into our schools. Although they had voted to provide almost one billion dollars to private schools over the next four years, they claimed that we just don’t have the funds to do more than 2 percent new money to our public schools.
The vote on vouchers has ensured that families, no matter what their income, will be able to access these funds to pay for their private school tuition. In Marshalltown, St. Francis only provides education through grade 6 and the Marshalltown Christian School through grade 8.
Families can collect their voucher money each year they attend the private school and “bank” what they don’t use until they graduate from High School or reach age 20. If they do not spend the voucher money each year, they can use the excess while they are attending the public schools Miller Middle School or Marshalltown High School.
They can use that money to pay for AP classes/tests, ACT testing, new computers each year or other expenses they need while in middle school and high school. Do our public school parents have the same opportunity? No, they do not.
Another issue that has been widely publicized this week is the bill to limit the types of food and the requirements for SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The original HouseFile 3 bans Iowans from buying a wide variety of foods with SNAP benefits, including fresh produce and meat.
Republicans have since stated that they only want to ban candy and soft drinks. This would need a waiver from the USDA which administers the SNAP program.
Representative Ann Meyers, the Republican lead on the bill, stated in a Des Moines Register interview, “We don’t want to take any benefits away. We know that we need a safety net for our most vulnerable people, but we want to make sure that if you’re getting them, you’re eligible.”
Yet, the Republicans removed any income guidelines from the school voucher bill which will provide nearly a billion dollars in vouchers to families no matter what their income after the third year of the program. Are we making sure these are going to the people who really need them?
No, it is a free for all!
But the bill HF 3 requires that if you have two cars or if you have assets above a certain level,
you could lose your SNAP benefits. There are also work requirements for some Medicaid recipients.
These discrepancies in the policies of the Republican Party are mind-boggling to me! Pay for all
private education, yet penalize, in a draconian way, those who need food or medical assistance. Remember this in November 2024. Please continue to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Sue Cahill, a Democrat from Marshalltown, represents District 52 in the Iowa House of Representatives.