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Pandemic fueled Iowa's push to expand school choice opportunities, advocate says

One bill approved, and already signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, provides more opportunities for charter schools in Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa — School choice was a top priority for Iowa lawmakers this legislative session.

Those who support expanding parents’ choices when choosing how to educate their kids say the pandemic fueled the issue.

"It was kind of a catalyst to make school choice bubble to the top of the conversation,” said Trish Wilger, executive director at Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.

One bill approved, and already signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, provides more opportunities for charter schools in Iowa.

Another allows greater flexibility for students transferring from one district to another by eliminating voluntary diversity plans.

RELATED: Twice a Victim | Confidential documents show DMPS denied transfers for alleged victims of rape, assault and bullying

"There will still be rules and regulations involved and that type of thing, but I think it will give parents a little power in that situation,” Wilger said.

But some feel the school choice legislation passed this year wasn't needed.

"We spend – I think it's $52 million, going to be $57 million – to support non-public school options in the state of Iowa,” said Melissa Peterson, government relations specialist at the Iowa State Education Association. “We have very liberal open enrollment policies. There are lots of different things that are already being done status quo that are already enhancing school choice in the state of Iowa and we think lots of actions that were taken this legislative session frankly were unnecessary."

Legislation that would have created education savings accounts, which allows parents to use part of the state's per-pupil education funding to pay for education-related expenses, didn't get approved this year. 

"Education savings accounts did get further this year than they ever did before, so we remain optimistic that, that will be another tool that will be passed at some point in the future,” Wilger said.

Those opposed to ESAs said that legislation not moving forward was a big win because it could lead to public tax dollars being used to fund private institutions.

RELATED: Education bill would use Iowa taxpayer dollars to fund savings accounts for students

Included in an education bill Reynolds signed overnight prohibiting school districts from having mask policies in place that are more restrictive than the state, was a requirement for all public schools to say the Pledge of Allegiance daily.

Students will not be required to say the Pledge if they, or their parents, don't want them to.