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CEDAR RAPIDS — The idea of Iowa adopting a school voucher program — and taking money away from public schools — gives an Iowa school administrator pause.
“The idea is to attract parents who don’t have enough dollars to send their kids to private school,” Roark Horn, exeuctive director of School Administrators of Iowa, said during an Iowa Ideas panel discussion Friday.
“If the money is going to people who are already educating their kids in a private school, I have a problem with that,” he said. “If you put all the public tax dollars right now to private entities ... I wonder if there’s enough balance.”
Currently, Iowa’s public schools receive most of their funding from the state. A voucher system could allow students and their parents to divert some of those dollars to private schools of their choice.
Horn noted the state has taken over the majority of funding for public schools as local funding — from property taxes — has dwindled, Horn said. And some state money already goes to private schools for textbooks, transportation, preschool services and more, he said.
However, McKenzie Snow, policy director for Education Choice Foundation for Excellence in Education, said she sees a difference between state dollars going straight to private schools and money going to parents, who can then choose where their child is educated and where the money is spent.
School choice, she said, would allow for a wider range of options to fit a child’s educational needs.
“I wouldn’t even conceive the idea that this is draining funds from public schools,” Snow said. “These are the funds the student generates that are intended for that individual student’s education. They are receiving a portion of that.”
Mark Jacobs, founder of Reaching Higher Iowa and an advocate for more Iowa charter schools, agreed.
“The fact is, what does the existence of alternative forms of education do for students across the board? That has lifted educational outcomes across the board,” Jacobs said, calling for a legislative framework for more charter schools. “Why would we not want to attract to Iowa educators and people who are really, really good?”
But Lisa Bartusek, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, said she wonders if voucher systems would have high standards of fiscal accountability.
The voucher system is essentially a “taxpayer loaded debit card,” Bartusek said, and while the money is often spent on private school education, it also can be used on services such as tutoring.
“My concern with that is that our private religious schools have a different set of standards for financial transparency and public oversight,” Bartusek said. “They are privately run, as they should be. Even though the money flows through the parent to those institutions, it’s a clear direction toward the private schools.
“As a taxpayer, we should have the ability to know the outcomes our tax funds support.”
Additionally, a voucher system would need more state-level oversight and more employees to manage the program, she said.
“With an educational savings account with state authorizers, you have to create a state structure and employ more people at the state level to oversee that,” she said. “I just don’t know that that’s the best use of our tax dollars.”
Bartusek said she doesn’t think taking money away from public schools is beneficial to the public school system, where the majority of Iowa children are educated.
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