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Iowa’s House of Representatives has set up an Education Reform Committee designed, according to their news release, to take up legislation that addresses “significant reforms to our educational system.” However, many believe this committee’s primary goal will be to pass a private school voucher bill Gov. Kim Reynolds has endorsed the last two years.
During this past year’s legislative session, the governor’s proposal to shift $55 million in taxpayer dollars from public schools to private school tuition assistance through 10,000 scholarships to students attending private schools. It failed to pass in the House.
Reynolds claims this legislation will provide “school choice,” but I question the logic of that statement.
First, Iowa students already have school choice. Thanks to Iowa’s broad open enrollment policies, students are able to attend any school outside of their attendance boundaries. And parents paying private school tuition for their children already get financial assistance from the state, thanks to Iowa’s School Tuition Organization tax credit program.
Second, such a law would fail to make school choice available to all Iowans. Of the 99 Iowa counties, 42 do not contain any private schools. 55 do not contain a private school that serves grades seven through eight and 77 do not contain a private school that serves grades nine through 12. And parents with a son or daughter with special needs would have the additional challenge of finding a private school, if there is one, with the resources to serve that student’s needs.
Third, it is likely that the primary beneficiaries of such a school voucher program would be families already sending a child to a private school. Given that the average private high school tuition in Iowa is $9,208 (according to the website Private School Review), the proposed amount of last year’s school voucher would have left parents with a bill of over $4,000, still too costly for many families.
Meanwhile, who would be disadvantaged by this voucher program? The nearly 1,600 public schools in Iowa, and the 481,000 students who attend those schools, would lose $55 million that had been earmarked for them in the state’s education budget. Our public schools would be hard-pressed to weather such a loss of funds. This past year, as schools faced the challenges of helping students recover from a pandemic year of closed schools and online learning, as well as increased operating costs caused by an 8.5 percent inflation rate, the state education budget was increased by a mere 2.5 percent.
I attended private Catholic schools from grades 1 through 12, and taught for the last fifteen years of my career at a public high school. I am sympathetic to both sides of this issue, but for me the path is clear: Taxpayer money should be invested in the public schools that serve 93.5 percent of Iowa’s schoolchildren. If you agree with me, I encourage you to let your state legislators know where you stand on this issue.
David Duer is a recently retired high school English teacher who cares about the future generations of Iowans. He lives in Iowa City.
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