116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
If the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature is going to pass a voucher bill allowing public money for private schools, the state should require private schools to follow the same rules, several speakers said at a public meeting Tuesday.
Eighteen people spoke at a 45-minute meeting before an Iowa House Education subcommittee, which voted 2-1 to approve House Study Bill 243, which would create the scholarship program. The program would allow K-12 students attending one of 34 low-performing Iowa public schools to get a scholarship of about $5,200 to attend another school - religious, private, charter or home-school.
Supporters say Iowa families should have a choice about what type of education works for their children.
'There are some families that are very disappointed with what their children are learning in public schools,” said the Rev. Keith Ratliff, executive director and elementary principal at the Joshua Christian Academy in Des Moines. 'School choice allows each family to chose where they want their family to align.”
Opponents, which include the Iowa teachers' union and the state school board association, say the program would snowball every year as new public schools are identified for support and improvement under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and more students become eligible for the program.
'We know vouchers will grow across the state as other schools go on that list,” said Margaret Buckton of the Urban Education Network of Iowa, which includes the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City school districts. 'Since prior voucher recipients will continue to be recipients, it will continue to expand the pool. We'll be in competition with private schools for the resources needed for our public schools.”
And it's hard for public schools to compete with private schools, which can choose not to enroll some students, including those in special education or with behavior disorders. Private schools also aren't required to have financial audits or comply with Iowa's Open Records law, speakers said.
Shanda Carstens, of Panora, said her family moved back to Iowa from Indiana, in part, for good rural schools here. Because many small towns in Iowa don't have private schools, she worries HSB 243 will push families to leave rural areas.
'Are we really going to incentivize Iowans to leave rural Iowa?” she asked. 'Please, let's take the most fiscally conservative route so more people want to move back to their rural roots.”
That pressure from rural areas may be the only thing keeping this bill from a quick passage. The voucher program is part of Gov. Kim Reynolds's sweeping education plan, but was parceled off into a separate bill in the House.
A bill making it easier to start charter schools also passed out of subcommittee Tuesday.
The conservative Club for Growth has scheduled TV ads to air this month criticizing House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, for 'stalling” on Senate File 159, which includes the voucher proposal that has already passed in the Iowa Senate, the Des Moines Register reported.
'Why is Speaker Pat Grassley stalling?” the ad asks. 'Delaying a vote on parental choice scholarships for Iowa children?”
Grassley told reporters last week he was breaking the proposals into separate bills so they could get proper vetting, the Register reported.
Friday is the 'funnel” deadline for the legislation to pass out of committee to the full chamber to remain in consideration.
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