FILE - School classroom

(The Center Square) – A charter school bill championed by Gov. Kim Reynolds is now before an education subcommittee in the Senate.

HF 813 was passed by the Iowa House 55-40 along party lines around 12:30 a.m. March 25.

The bill establishes a new charter school program, which provides two ways to establish a charter school in the state. A local public school board can create a founding group and a new attendance center or an independent founding group can create a charter school independent of a public school district.

Currently, charter schools can only be created “within an existing public school” or by converting an existing public school attendance center to a charter school.

Democrats expressed concerns about how much charter schools would cost the state.

“The reason this bill went to [the Appropriations committee] was to identify what the actual cost would be so we have some kind of idea of what impact this will have on our state budget,” Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said. “If this particular bill is going to be considered, we ought to have a limit on how much it will actually cost the taxpayers of the state of Iowa.”

Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, the bill’s floor manager, said charter schools are a method of giving Iowa parents “the tools necessary to do what’s best for their kids.”

“This bill is not going to open the floodgates to out-of-state for-profit companies to come in and – excuse my language – screw the state of Iowa and screw our education system and then laugh at us and leave,” Wheeler said. “Many of these organizations have had incredible amounts of success, specifically in minority communities, across the nation.”

Iowa State Education Association, Iowa Association of School Boards and Rural School Advocates of Iowa are among the groups that have lobbied against the bill.

Iowa Association of School Boards lobbyist Emily Piper said in a video commentary March 25 that the bill passed because “there was an awful lot of pressure being put on House Republicans to pass one of [Gov. Reynolds’] major priorities.”

“Even though we had the best arguments as to why this bill isn’t the right public policy, we couldn’t overcome the fact that the governor’s office has the bully pulpit when it comes to pushing her party, her legislators to do what she wants,” Piper said.

She said she anticipates the bill will pass in the Senate as well.

“I know that there are a number of Republican Senators who really would prefer to have vouchers than charters and they really don’t want charter schools without vouchers, but at the end of the day, the same pressure that the governor’s office put on House Republicans will be put on Senate Republicans and the bill will pass and become law,” she said.

The House passed two amendments on the bill. Changes H-1255 and H-1240 made included declaring that the charter schools’ governing boards are to be governmental bodies, under Chapter 21 of Iowa code, with meetings “conducted in a manner that is open to the public”; decreasing initial charter school contracts from 10 years to 5 years; and mandating that the majority of the charter school governing board must reside in the school’s territory and that all

There may be an increase in Department of Education administration costs and need for full-time positions to manage the oversight the bill requires, and costs would depend on the number of new charter school applications the state board receives, according to a fiscal note published March 11.