Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ “school choice” plan is back. And it’s worse than ever.
The proposal unveiled this past week further expands the Republican governor’s efforts to divert state money for public schools to help pay private school tuition after previous versions of the plan were rejected in the Iowa House of Representatives the past two years.
It was a bad idea in the first place, one that will be detrimental to rural and urban schools alike, and this incarnation puts even more tax dollars on the table.
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In 2021, Reynolds’ proposal would have been available only to students whose public schools were considered to be in need of “comprehensive support and improvement” — which amounted to 34 schools in the state.
In 2022, the governor pushed a proposal that would have allowed middle- and low-income families and students with an individualized educational plan to take 70% of their state-allocated per-pupil funding — about $5,300 per student — to move their child from public schools to the education system of their choice.
The 2023 version of school choice would make the “scholarships” available to all public school students, while students already in private schools could qualify if their household income was less than 300% of the federal poverty level, which is about $83,000 for a family of four. The scholarships would be available to every family in Iowa — regardless of income or the performance of the local public school — by the third year.
In Dubuque County, where educators have long been proud of having strong public and parochial school systems that worked cooperatively, the impact of school choice would be enormous. Holy Family Catholic Schools stated its enrollment was 1,793 this year. At $7,598 per student, the impact of current Holy Family enrollment alone would be $13,623,214 if it stayed steady in the third year.
That’s not counting any other students who might move over from the public system. That’s not counting students who go to other private schools, such as Tri-State Christian School. And it’s not counting the other Catholic schools elsewhere in the county.
Statewide, giving nearly $7,600 — a number that has climbed from last year’s proposal of $5,360 — just to every student currently enrolled in private school would cost the state more than $250 million per year.
According to Reynolds’ own numbers, once the program is fully in place, estimates are the state will be spending upwards of $341 million to fund private school scholarships. If the governor believes the state has an additional $341 million to spend on education, why not spend it on improving public schools? Providing a good public education system should be a top priority for the State of Iowa, which once boasted having among the best schools in the country.
As for access to private schools, the state is hardly a level playing field. Of Iowa’s 99 counties, 41 have no private schools at all. Where is the choice for those families? Delaware, Clayton and Allamakee counties are among the 23 counties that each have just one private school. That’s not much of a choice in 64 of Iowa’s 99 counties. And private schools don’t have to accept all students the way public schools do.
Meanwhile, research shows that this sort of choice option (read “voucher”) does little to lift up low-income students. Extensive research on school choice programs in Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., shows no statistically significant difference in the performance of students in targeted groups.
Reynolds has built in some extra money for public schools. Under her proposal, public schools would get about $1,200 for every student who lives within the district — including those who attend private school. We’re glad to see some attempt to address the shortfall the public system inevitably will endure, but this creates an approach to education that is inherently off balance.
As state officials engage in debating the measure, they must bear in mind one of the founding principles of democracy: Taxpayer dollars support public, not private, schools.
Iowa lawmakers should consider an approach other than Reynolds’ school choice measure. Apparently, the state can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to keep private school students attending private schools. Instead, the state could earmark funding to strengthen the ability of the state’s struggling schools to retain teachers and reduce class sizes to help all the students who attend there, not just a handful who opt to leave.
Bring it to vote by the people of Iowa.
Why point the finger of irresponsibility at the governor? How about someone does a serious “in depth” look at HOW the money is being spent (or wasted) by each and every school district.
Uhhhh.....who was the Telegraph Herald endorsing for just about every race? Own it.
I love the statement, diverting state money, actually, it’s the taxpayers money and they should be able to spend it how they see fit, especially when it comes to their kids education. Competition is not a bad thing.
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