Heritage awards Gov. Reynolds for signing controversial ESA bill

Heritage awards Gov. Reynolds for signing controversial ESA bill

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to school children in January as she signs a bill that creates education savings accounts. 

Heritage awards Gov. Reynolds for signing controversial ESA bill

Iowa's governor Kim Reynolds supported controversial education reforms in The Hawkeye State that worried Republican lawmakers but earned her accolades from The Heritage Foundation and its education experts.

After she signed the Students First Act in January, which allows families to participate in education saving accounts, Heritage has awarded the Republican governor its 2023 Education Freedom Award.

Jonathan Butcher, an education policy expert at The Heritage Foundation, says Iowa became the ninth U.S. state to establish a so-called ESA that gives families more flexibility and education freedom.

“And just a couple of years ago we only had about two [states],” Butcher says. “I think it is now what all lawmakers should be doing but I think especially lawmakers who are conservative."

Iowa’s ESA program will begin with the 2025-2026 school year when every child will have access to a $7,500 credit for tuition, tutoring, and textbooks.

Heritage considers Iowa’s ESA a “universal” program because the per-child amount covers most private school tuitions, meaning every child is able to participate. That puts Iowa alongside ESA pioneer Arizona and West Virginia, which expanded their programs last year.  

Republicans control the state Senate and state House but were unable to pass a school choice bill in the House during the 2022 session. One concern among GOP lawmakers was if the program would harm rural public school districts that would lose students and the education tax dollars that follow them.

Butcher, Jonathan (Heritage) Butcher

That failure disappointed Gov. Reynolds so much she campaigned against GOP lawmakers who voted against it, according to The Des Moines Register. 

According to Butcher, anyone who is concerned about rural schools being harmed should also consider why parents are willing to pull their children.

“That argument doesn't carry water because, if parents are going to choose to send their children somewhere else, that means the school's not meeting the needs of their families,” he says.

During the 2023 session, the ESA bill passed 55-45 in the House and 21-18 in the Senate. Nine Republicans voted against it in the House and three opposed it in the Senate. 

Reynolds cruised to a second term in 2022 on a campaign platform that included “school choice” for Iowa’s public school students.

Heritage also recognized Gov. Reynolds for signing other education-related bills including a parents' rights bill that prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.