Kim Reynolds Calls Chelgren Proposal to Direct Money Away from Public Schools “Not Unreasonable”

The lawmaker also known as Chickenman has a history of attacking public education funding, once comparing a free preschool program to Nazi indoctrination

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State Sen. Mark “Chickenman” Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, has a history of taking aim at public school funding, and on Wednesday he was at it again, introducing a bill that would allow parents to use vouchers to redirect state funds for public education to pay for private or home-schooling expenses.

Asked about the bill the following day, Gov. Kim Reynolds told reporters that she hadn’t taken a look at it yet but added, “it’s not unreasonable to give parents the opportunity for choice.” She continued: “I think it’s really important that we have a very strong public school system. It’s also important to provide parents with choice, so I think it’s a balance, but I would need to take a look at that.”

Beginning in the fall 2019 school year, Chelgren’s bill would allow parents of students who are either just starting kindergarten or attended public school the previous year to take $5,000 to $6,000 out of the state’s public school budget to pay for private schooling. “If there’s a public school that’s failing, we have a responsibility to those children that we give them the best opportunity possible,” Chelgren told the Des Moines Register.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Legislature repealed a funding deadline for K-12 schools, increased per-pupil funding by just 1.11 percent — well under then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s recommended 2 percent increase — and discussed private vouchers as an alternative to public schooling. The move was protested by teachers and Democratic lawmakers who argued that inadequate public funding would particularly put rural schools at risk for closure.

Chelgren has previously attacked public school funding. In 2011, he slammed the state’s universal preschool program for 4-year-olds, whom he said were “malleable” and easier to manipulate through an “indoctrination process by teachers” as opposed to being taught by their parents. “What question I have for this body and the question I have in general, if it is all about indoctrinating a child, I would use the exact same arguments that the Nazis used, that we should take children immediately, as soon as we recognize they have potential,” he argued in front of his House colleagues. (See the video above for his full remarks.)

The lawmaker, also known as Chickenman for his past RAGBRAI exploits, is a skeptic of public universities too, although he himself last year was caught in a lie about a business degree he claimed to have earned from what was actually a Sizzler Steakhouse franchisee. He filed a bill last year that, had it passed, would have required universities to use a political litmus test for faculty, hiring more Republicans to balance out the number of Democrats on staff. And in 2015, he proposed a Survivor-style” law that would have allowed students to vote on whether professors they disliked should be fired.

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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.