The message from Gov. Reynolds and the GOP: Transparency is for suckers

Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Capitol Dispatch

Editor’s note: This article is from Iowa Capitol Dispatch from Jan 23, 2023

Transparency is for suckers. That’s the message, loud and clear, from Gov. Kim Reynolds and her Republican enablers in the Legislature.

I’d suspect that this was another, particularly idiotic manifestation of the trans-phobia that has infected Republican officeholders the past few years. But no, Reynolds and GOP lawmakers are insisting on “transparency” through various priority bills in the Legislature while keeping the public in the dark. Everybody loves transparency  – as long as it required of other people.

Reynolds’ recent interview with Amanda Rooker of KCCI-TV made that abundantly clear. Rooker asked Reynolds about the so-called “transparency” measures she is proposing for public schools. These may include ideas proposed in the past, like requiring teachers to post their lesson plans online or school libraries posting every title on their shelves.

Rooker asked if Reynolds would also seek to impose those rules on private schools that receive taxpayer funds from her education savings account proposal.

Reynolds stammered.

“Well, you know they’re held to — you know, most of this would deal with public schools, would public schools right now. So you know, they – it would just be public schools.”

That last phrase is the actual answer. Only public schools would have to post course details and library titles and whatever else the governor and GOP lawmakers can think of to demand from public schools.

Why not private schools? If we’re going to dedicate hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to give parents a “choice” on where to send their kids, shouldn’t that be an informed choice?

Reynolds says parents can figure that out for themselves.

“But again, it’s the parent that’s going to be making that decision. So if they feel that the school doesn’t meet their expectations, or what they’re looking for, then they’re not going to transfer their child there,” she said. “So I’m going to trust parents to do the research, to, you know, to make the decision of what environment is best for their children.”

Speaking of those taxpayer dollars that will be going to possibly secretive private schools, Reynolds said she is planning to hire a private company to handle the transfer of state money to parents and oversee how that money is spent. Lawmakers will not be informed about how that would be done and what company would be in charge until after the legislation has passed.

And speaking of taxpayer money, House Speaker Pat Grassley told reporters last week that the House doesn’t need to send the school scholarship bill through the Appropriations Committee to examine the spending. Why not? Because House Republicans have talked about the cost. Among themselves. In secret.

“I will tell you that, I probably talk so much about appropriations matters in caucus, I probably drive them nuts how much time we do spend on that,” Grassley said. “We take this very seriously, whenever we look at any sort of investment like this, and there has been significant time not only since we got to session, but leading up to session on what potential proposals would look like. 

So it’s not like we just started yesterday having that conversation.”

None of those conversations were in public, however. Neither the governor nor legislators discussed details of the current, vastly expanded, scholarship plan during the campaign. Republican and Democratic “caucus” meetings are held behind closed doors.

The Senate did hold an appropriations committee meeting last week, but decided to push forward with the bill without a nonpartisan fiscal analysis. The chambers could send the bill to the governor’s desk as early as this week, without giving Iowans time to absorb the details.

Then, they’ll move on to talking about transparency for public school teachers, tax assessors, universities and all those other suckers.