February 03, 2023

Public money is for public schools

The Iowa Legislature gaveled in on Monday, Jan. 9 followed by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ State of the State Address when she introduced a broad and expensive voucher plan that would provide the same per pupil funding to non-public school parents as available to public schools. The Iowa House and Senate submitted bills regarding her proposal overnight and posted on Wednesday morning, Jan. 10.

I have no issues with private schools if a parent makes that choice for their child. It’s a personal and family decision. However, I have big issues with the use of taxpayer’s money being used to fund a private school because students can be denied enrollment and there is no public oversight of program, curriculum and teacher licensure especially if the school is not accredited. Public money should be spent on public education.

Iowa parents already have multiple choices for attending public schools. Students can attend the district where they live. Students can open enroll to any public school district in the state and the public money is sent to the district of enrollment. Students can use a homeschool option involving assistance provided by the local school district or a parent determined the curriculum for instruction. Students can attend an online school or charter school that is supported by public funds.

Public schools that receive public money accept any student who walks in the door regardless of physical, learning or behavioral needs, economic status, race, religion, political beliefs, or gender. Public schools are accountable to the locally elected school boards who are the voice of the community. Additionally, the Department of Education provides oversight for use of taxpayer money and ensures transparency, equal access to programs, curriculum, academic testing and use of licensed teachers.

Reynolds’ voucher proposal doesn’t really offer a real choice. Private schools are governed by self-appointed boards of trustees with no public oversight. Private schools can limit or exclude students based on academic performance, religious beliefs, or special physical, learning or behavior needs. The governor’s proposal gives private schools about $7,500 of public money per student but requires no oversight, accountability or transparency for use of public money required of public schools.

Public schools educate over 90% of Iowa’s students in all 99 Iowa counties. Forty-two Iowa counties don’t have private schools. Five of the seven counties in this state senate district are in that list; Adams, Cass, Montgomery, Ringgold and Taylor counties. Only Union and Page counties have a private elementary school and no secondary school.

Reynolds’ voucher plan harms rural Iowa. Almost 75% of Iowa schools are in rural areas where there is no access to private schools. Most Iowa families will be excluded from participating in the plan. Rural Iowans without a private school option will pay for urban students to go to private schools. Ninety-eight percent of the students in Senate District 9 attend public schools.

When you hear an argument vouchers won’t matter in rural Iowa if there isn’t a private school nearby, don’t listen. Iowans and rural school districts have been told for years there isn’t enough money to fully fund or expand resources for public education. Yet, Reynolds wants to divert the “limited” state resources to private schools. It makes no sense and hurts all public schools.

If the governor’s voucher plan prevails, public money meant to fund Iowa’s public schools will be diverted to zip codes that have nothing to do with the majority of Iowa or southwest Iowa’s students. The governor has decided she wants to be a champion for private schools rather than public schools. Make no mistake, it will hurt all public-school districts regardless of zip code. When private schools are held accountable for use of taxpayer money like public schools, maybe another discussion can take place.

Parents who want a choice other than the public school where they live, can choose a public option that sends public money to another public school. If parents want to choose an education reflecting personal or religious beliefs with no oversight by taxpayers or the Department of Education, private school using personal not public funds is for them. If we want an educated population, public money should help pay to educate over 90% of Iowa’s students living in all 99 counties.

Talk to your legislators and send a clear message: “Public money is for public schools.” Elected leaders are accountable to constituents who live in their district and not Reynolds.