A large crowd is expected at the Iowa Capitol late this afternoon for a public hearing on what Governor Kim Reynolds calls her “school choice” plan.

When fully implemented, at least $341 million in state money would be distributed each year to Iowa parents with kids in private K-12 schools to cover tuition and other expenses. Reynolds and House Speaker Pat Grassley say it would promote competition and improve public schools.

“This is obviously a huge shift within the state,” Grassley said during last weekend’s Iowa Press on Iowa PBS, “but I think we can do it in a way that we can support both.”

Democrats are opposed to the idea. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said the plan will siphon resources away from public schools.

“I think there are some Republicans who also have serious concerns about what this will do to communities with public schools,” Konfrst said during an appearance on Iowa Press on Iowa PBS. “Will it make public schools dry up in small towns?”

The governor’s previous, more limited plans for private school funding faltered in the House in each of the past two years. Grassley, the top Republican in the House, has said he’s optimistic there enough G-O-P votes this year.

“I feel confident we will have the support, but there’s going to be a vote in the House either way, Iowans are going to get to see where their legislator stands on the issue,” Grassley said last week. “Part of why we’ve made some changes in committee functions or committee make-ups as well to assure that the process did not stop this from at least being voted on in the Iowa House.”

Grassley and two other House GOP leaders on the new House Education Reform Committee will be able to advance the bill under new House rules that bypass three other committees where the bill could have faltered. Konfrst, the top Democrat in the House, said ensuring wealthy Iowans get thousands of state tax dollars to send their child to a private school is unpopular.

“When you ask Iowans: ‘Do you want school vouchers?’ the majority say, ‘No,'” Konfrst said.

The House speaker argues it was no secret on the campaign trail that the governor and GOP candidates would pursue this policy — and Republicans scored sizable victories.

“The dynamic has fundamentally changed since last session,” Grassley said. “There’s been an election. This issue has been out there. Candidates for the House all across the state were successful and almost all of them at least campaigned with this as part of their campaign strategy and their platform moving forward.”

Konfrst cites data indicating there are just 51 private high schools in the state and 40 counties don’t have even a private elementary.

“We need to focus on the 485,000 kids in public schools and that’s what we will be pushing for,” Konfrst said.

This evening’s public hearing is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. and last for 90 minutes. Hundreds of people have already submitted written comments.

Radio Iowa