A voucher wolf bill, dressed up in sheep’s clothing named “Students First Scholarships,” was introduced in the Legislature last week. This bill’s vouchers and charter schools are not for Iowa. This bill offers parents financial support to send their student(s) to private schools, giving vouchers to those who attend 46 public schools (out of 1,315), identified by two-year-old state test scores. This data is more a result of poverty and ELL concentration than school performance. None of these 46 schools, nor any private schools, exist in Adair County or HD20. This small start to vouchers is how private school advocates in other states began huge voucher expansions: the camel’s nose under the tent.
Sound recent voucher research reveals they do not raise student achievement. Stanford Economist Professor Martin Carnoy studies the effectiveness of educational interventions. “There are many policy changes that are likely to have much higher payoffs than privatization including teacher training, early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, student health programs, and heightened standards in math, reading and science.”
Public schools by law (and by moral imperative) educate all children; they are held accountable for student learning and transparent fiscal management by locally elected school boards. Private schools enroll AND un-enroll whomever they want; there is no public governance, accountability or transparency. This bill prohibits any state or local government requirements imposed on private schools, meaning no change in enrollment standards, transparency or accountability accompanying the voucher. The bill further requires the parent to pay the voucher back to the state of Iowa if the private school kicks their student out or if they go back to the public school, most likely in search of special education and ELL services the private schools don’t provide.
We Iowans worry about our children. Historically, our very best economic development tool has been our schools. Iowa is #1 in the nation with our 91.6% (99% for Nodaway Valley) public high school graduation rate. Public schools have been our version of year-round warm weather and sandy beaches. This voucher bill is not for Iowa at any time, but this difficult year is no time to add a voucher program with little likelihood of a return on the investment. Iowa lawmakers should support our public schools, not condemn and punish them. Nodaway Valley needs adequate funding so our locally elected school board can meet the needs of our students, not more special interest programs such as this voucher wolf from the Governor and Legislature.