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Vote for school choice bill was carefully considered
The Driscoll Dispatch
State Sen. Dawn Driscoll
Feb. 1, 2023 12:15 am
The Senate is now in the third week of the legislative session and members have been getting busier with subcommittee and committee work. I know personally I had very busy days on Tuesday and Wednesday with all of my subcommittee and committee meetings.
My days were also spent meeting with the various groups that were at the Capitol. I spoke with some students from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy about what pieces of legislation they would like to see passed this session.
I was also excited to take the time to speak with Reverend Thomas R. Zinkula when he came to the Capitol for the Iowa Catholic Bishops Legislative Breakfast.
Lastly, Representative Hora and I met with Damon John who is the general manager of Riverside Casino and Resort.
Thursday morning, I sat in the subcommittee meeting for SF 84 which is a bill that increases penalties for sexual exploitation of a minor. The penalty in Iowa for enticing a minor into sexual activity or production of pornography is woefully inadequate.
Prosecutors have been reduced to begging the federal government to take over cases. This leaves Iowa children and families without any real justice when victimized by predators.
SF 84 is an attempt to change all that. Brought to us by county attorneys (including John Gish, the Washington County Attorney), and supported by law enforcement and the Attorney General, the bill increases penalties for enticing and child pornography. It sets mandatory minimums for prison sentences, and prevents deferred sentences. Iowa law will finally have some teeth when it comes to protecting children from predators.
Promises Made, Promises Kept
Starting Jan. 1, parts of our tax relief bill have started to take effect and Iowans are already seeing the results. One part of the tax bill passed in 2022 started reducing rates for Iowans. This year there are four tax brackets, brought down from nine, now with a top rate of 6 percent. Over the next few years, the rate will continue to be reduced until we reach a flat tax rate of 3.9 percent. This means this month, Iowans are seeing more money in their paychecks, more money in their pockets, and more money to help manage President Biden’s tough economy.
Iowans want common-sense solutions to the challenges we are facing. As other states are implementing policies to chase the productive segments of their economy out of their state, Iowa is lowering taxes, eliminating needless regulations and becoming an attractive state for those Americans. We are confident Iowa is on the right path, and we will keep delivering real results for working families.
School Choice Signed into Law
This week the Senate and House both passed the Students First Act. Gov. Reynolds introduced this bill after her Condition of the State speech. She has led on this issue for years and made it a priority in her campaign, a campaign she won by nearly 20 percent.
My decision to support this bill was not made without lots of consideration and without consultation from members of District 46. I tried to look at this piece of legislation from all angles before making my decision on how to vote.
I considered my constituents’ opinions and concerns when voting on this piece of legislation. I appreciate everyone reaching out to me with their opinions — this allowed me to gain insight as to the concerns and the misunderstandings of what the bill does.
I also spent last Friday afternoon on a Zoom meeting with superintendents in the district to give them the opportunity to express their concerns about the bill. Gov. Reynolds's staff was also on this Zoom in order to fully discuss what the bill entailed and explain the common misunderstandings that the public had on the bill.
The Students First Act creates an Educational Savings Account (ESA) for Iowa families to use to access a non-public school. This amount is equal to state funding provided to public schools. For next year it will be approximately $7,600. It will be available in the first year of implementation to incoming kindergarten students, students currently in public schools, and families with income of less than 300% of Federal Poverty Level. The program expands by year three to include all families.
One comment frequently made about the Students First Act is private schools are not accountable. This claim is easily debunked by the reality that private schools have the same accreditation standards used by public schools or by another accreditation system approved by the Iowa Department of Education. Students using an ESA to attend a non-public school are tested and evaluated in the same way students in a public school are tested, and those results are compiled and reported in the same way. Even more than the accreditation standards and testing, non-public schools have the very real and practical accountability realized by the presence of choice. The private school is fully accountable to their parents and wholly motivated to provide a product parents find acceptable, because if they don’t, parents can simply choose another option. It’s the same simple principle used in nearly every other transaction in American life and it has created the most successful economy in the history of the world.
My children currently attend and will continue to attend public school in Williamsburg. I want every child in Iowa to have the opportunity to excel in the environment best suited for them and the Educational Savings Account (ESA) legislation is a huge step in providing choice to parents and flexibility to schools all at the same time. I was once told “comfort was the enemy of progress” and with bill you will see that all students and schools will benefit.
The communications I received on this topic were really important and I appreciate my constituents taking the time to reach out with their questions and concerns. I spent the week responding to emails from my constituents in order to clear up any concerns and/or misunderstandings anyone might have. Please keep in contact as the session moves forward with your thoughts on the issues and legislation before the Senate.
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