116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
During the pandemic when students were sent home to learn virtually, parents functionally became the educators. Keeping kids on task and creating at-home learning projects inspired parents to create learning pods and exchange at-home education ideas via Facebook groups or blogs.
Many parents found that home-schooling worked better for their kids and allowed them to communicate their family values. Now, out of an abundance of caution or new found love for home schooling, the national number of home-schooled students jumped from 5.4 percent to 11.1 percent. This increase is, in part, driven by parents in metropolitan areas enrolling their children in alternative education programs.
Nationally, public and private schools have been receiving lots of attention for teaching politically contentious lessons. Public schools are diving deeper into complicated cultural topics that educators are woefully unprepared to navigate or field questions about. In a time when public schools are under scrutiny for teaching critical race theory, although now banned in Iowa schools, there is renewed interest in localizing a child’s education so parents have more input and oversight.
Public schools are a necessity but they aren’t exclusively deserving of taxpayer education funding
Elon Musk and other SpaceX employees favor a "pod“ education style, popular in California’s Silicon Valley, to educate their children. Depending on the pod structure, private tutors are hired to teach for a few hours a week on particular lessons or parents direct activities. Home-school groups in Iowa have similar arrangements. For example, in the Cedar Valley, a math professor from a local college will teach the group of multi-age students twice a week and other parents with comparable but different talents will lead over other lessons.
These home-school pods or alternative education associations will likely be increasing in number because the Iowa Legislature recently passed a bill (HF 813) allowing charter school applications to go directly to the Department of Education instead of through the local School Board. Teachers and proponents of public school, who largely make up local school boards, have obvious incentives to keep students enrolled in public school, as federal and state funding follows the number of students enrolled at each school. The state removed any temptation for public school boards to quash charter school applications, their competition, by directing applications straight to the state.
A smoother pathway for establishing charter schools was a smart move, but why stop there? Per student in Iowa, $11,732 is invested per year on each child's education. SF 159 proposed establishing a “Students First Scholarship,” but it died after passing the Iowa Senate in January. The parents of eligible students entering kindergarten or currently attending a public school can use up to $5,720 for certain educational services, including private school tuition, online education, education therapies, private tutoring or future educational expenses. Arizona established a similar program with its “Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.” Adopting this proposal would empower parents to spend their Students First Scholarship on education, but if a parent wants to opt for home schooling, why not give them a portion of that money for their labor?
Public schools are a necessity but they aren’t exclusively deserving of taxpayer education funding when parents, private and charter schools offset the workload of education for Iowa's children. Iowa has taken sensible steps through private school vouchers, charter school permitting and now our Students First Scholarship. We should continue this competitive education trend by empowering parents who home-school and encouraging the development of alternative education groups that will continue to grow in our community.
Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org