Education issues took center stage at Saturday morning’s virtual legislative forum hosted by the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
Coming on the heels of the Legislature’s passage — and governor signing — a bill requiring schools to require that schools offer 100 percent in-person learning, legislators pledged support to continue keeping students in school.
“Things maybe got shut down too quickly,” District 42 State Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Mt. Pleasant, said. “Young people show very few symptoms and problems. I’m looking forward to getting back to normal.”
District 84 State Rep. Joe Mitchell, R-Mt. Pleasant, said that he was glad that the governor mandated that students get back in school.
“I’ll continue to support policies to make sure schools are open,” Mitchell said.
Although District 41 State Sen. Adrian Dickey, R-Packwood, had only recently won a special election to replace now-U. S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and was not part of the vote, Dickey said he, too, supports getting kids back to school.
“The No. 1 issue I heard from residents was getting kids in school,” Dickey said.
Debi Plum, a retired educator from Arizona and member of the Fairfield school board, asked about the legislators’ stance on a bill that would create vouchers for students at failing schools to be able to use toward attending a private school.
She noted that Arizona passed school vouchers several years ago, and the program did not make the education system any better.
“Arizona schools rank low in education and has huge class sizes,” Plum said. “How would it improve public education?”
The bill narrowly passed the Senate and is now being considered by the House.
Reichman said that he was initially a “no” vote when the bill was first introduced because it was “too broad.”
He ultimately supported the bill after a number of changes were made but said he knows the bill is not perfect.
“To sit back and do nothing is wrong,” Reichman said. “It’s better to have a good idea now than a great idea later.
“We’re doing something for these impoverished children.”
Dickey said that he was not sworn in and unable to vote on the bill.
Fairfield school Superintendent Laurie Noll asked about preschool funding.
Reichman, Dickey and Mitchell all said that there is another bill in the works to provide additional funding for preschool.
Legislators also discussed bills aimed at scaling back absentee voting.
The bills reduce the absentee voting period from 29 to 18 days, reduce the period of time when voters could request absentee ballots to 70 days from 120 ahead of an election and would no longer allow county auditors to mail absentee ballot request forms to voters.
Mary Tournoff, who was taking part in Saturday’s forum, pointed out that there has been no credible evidence of voter fraud in the November election even though Iowans voted in record numbers.
“We should be doing everything we can to make it easier to vote,” Tournoff said.
Dickey responded, “I disagree that voting should be made easier. This bill strengthens safeguards.”
He added that allowing people to vote too far ahead of Election Day “does a disservice to all the politicians out there campaigning.”
Reichman said that 18 days is plenty of time for someone to cast an absentee ballot if voting is important to them.
Mitchell said that, even with the changes, Iowa will still be ahead of most states on absentee voting.
He added that the Legislature passes some sort of election bill every year and none of them have hindered turnout.
“It’s our right as Americans to vote,” Tournoff responded. “You shouldn’t be making it harder.”