DES MOINES — A bill allowing part of the state’s per-pupil allocation to public schools to be used for “scholarships” to pay for private schooling passed in the Senate Thursday and now awaits a similar vote in the House.

The bill builds on promises Reynolds made in her State of the State speech earlier this month.

Under the bill, the state would allow a portion of the state aid allocated to school districts — up to $5,270 — school districts would retain around $2,000 per student.

The money would be deposited into a “scholarship fund” where it could be used for tuition, fees, textbooks, tutoring, cognitive skills training and other items needed to attend private schools. The fund would not cover food, clothing, transportation costs or disposable materials, like pencils and notebooks.

To qualify students must live in a district that falls in the lowest 5% of Title I schools based on certain criteria or who have a high school graduation rate below 67.1%. There are currently 34 schools in that category.

Twenty-six of the 32 Senate Republicans voted for the bill, the minimum needed to pass, while all Senate Democrats voted against it. Radio Iowa reported that Republican Senator Amy Sinclair of Allerton said the eligible students are attending 34 public school buildings flagged for failing federal standards.“Thirty-four schools that have gotten so bad that they need federal assistance to try and improve,” Sinclair said. “…We don’t have time to study it. These children are not being educated.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn called the idea a “scheme” and said it would “undermine our foundation in education.”

“Iowans care so much about giving our children a world-class education and the chance to pursue their dreams that we put the image of a schoolhouse on our state quarter,” he said, “But Iowa Republicans’ reckless voucher scheme will close public schools and undermine our ‘foundation in education’ by siphoning public funds away from public schools to give to private schools instead.”

“Every child in Iowa should have the opportunity to go to a top-notch public school with all the tools they need to be successful,” he added.

Email Jeff Lundquist at jrlund@ant-news.com

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