Funding Iowa schools

A school bell at the Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District.  Photographed on Monday, March 19, 2012, in northwest Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A school bell at the Educational Leadership and Support Center for the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Photographed on Monday, March 19, 2012, in northwest Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Public education in Iowa was established upon our Dec. 28, 1846, statehood. Today, parents have six options for their children’s education: public school, open enrollment, virtual academy, private school, home school and independent private instruction.

With six options, why do lawmakers want to increase public taxpayer outlay from $52,311,145 for school choice to $240,000,000 as noted in House File 9, Senate File 29? The bills will be taken up during the 2018 session.

Few people realize $52 million of Iowa’s $7.5 billion budget subsidizes 44,226 privately educated students. Public funding for private education is allocated as follows: $15.5 million for tuition and textbook tax credits, $12 million for school tuition tax credit, $8.2 million for nonpublic transportation reimbursement, $650,000 for nonpublic textbook reimbursement, $2 million for home school assistance payments given to home school parents, $1.6 million for classes in public schools that nonpublic students attend and $13 million funding for community partners preschool of 4-year-olds.

According to the Iowa Poll (Selzer and Co.; Dec. 3-6), education is Iowan’s No. 1 priority and only 35 percent of citizens approve of the Republican legislature-controlled education funding allocation. Furthermore, 65 percent of Iowans do not want private education to be supported by public funds.

Iowa’s budget is $75 million in the red. It’s predicted an additional $45 million to $90 million spending cut is forthcoming in January. Where would supplemental money come from to increase Iowa’s $52 million school choice allocation to $240 million? Answer: Public education, causing many school districts, especially those in the rural area, to go bankrupt.

Public schools are held accountable for teacher certification, educational attainment, student attendance, health maintenance and are controlled by a publicly elected school board. Since 2013, anyone can teach a home school educated child, the teacher needs no teacher certification let alone a GED, and no record of the student’s attendance, health record or educational achievement are required.

Other school choice issues have been kept quiet from the public, including:

1) there is little evidence voucher programs have improved educational outcomes,

2) nonpublic funding of education benefits the rich, and

3) students who are intellectually challenged, disabled, of the wrong religion, race, social class and/or have discipline problems could be shunned by private institutions and they would have no constitutional protection.

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Public education and privatized schooling in Iowa have established a good-to-great working partnership and respect each other’s unique role, function and purpose. Allocating $52 million of Iowa’s hard-earned tax money to support nonpublic and home schooling is generous to a fault.

A test of representation is before our legislators. Will they ignore the will and pleasure of their constituents or be responsible legislators, put the public before their party and defeat the proposed school choice bills?

• Steve Corbin is professor emeritus of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls.

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