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May 5, 2023Des Moines, Iowa |  By: AP

Iowa lawmakers close with private school funds, tax breaks

iowa capitol

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Legislature adjourned Thursday after approving most of the Republican majority’s priorities, including using public money for private school tuition, banning gender-affirming care for transgender children, removing some books from school libraries and reorganizing state government in a way that gives the governor more power over top administrators.

Both chambers adjourned after approving an $8.5 billion budget. Earlier in the week, Republicans who hold large majorities in both chambers pushed through a $100 million property tax cut that Gov. Kim Reynolds planned to sign Thursday.

Earlier in the session, Republicans approved the bill allowing public money for private school tuition, making Iowa among a handful of states that allows such spending with few restrictions.

Democrats and educators had argued the bill to create education savings accounts would result in reduced funding for public schools, but Reynolds had pushed hard for the change. The governor argued it would make private schools available for everyone, rather than only those who could afford the extra costs.

“For the first time, we will fund students instead of a system, a decisive step in ensuring that every child in Iowa can receive the best education possible,” Reynolds said in a statement when she signed the bill into law.

The measure is expected to cost $345 million annually in its fourth year, after it is fully implemented, according to a nonpartisan legislative analysis.

Under the bill Reynolds signed into law banning gender-affirming care for those younger than 18, doctors will have to stop prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones. That bill will also bar transgender students from using public school restrooms that align with their gender identity.

Another bill approved by lawmakers and awaiting Reynolds’ signature would require books with descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act to be removed from school libraries or classrooms. Exceptions would include the Bible and other religious texts.

The bill also would ban instruction about gender identity or sexual orientation in kindergarten through sixth grade, and require schools to notify parents if a child requests to use a different pronoun.

The government reorganization bill signed into law by Reynolds reduces the number of cabinet-level agencies from 37 to 16. It allows the governor to appoint more administrators, rather than leaving that to state boards, and will make it easier for her to pay them higher salaries.

Reynolds said the changes will result in a more efficient, less costly state government.