Guest Columnist

Cedar Rapids School Board: Education bill leaves majority of families behind

Garfield Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Garfield Elementary School in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

On Thursday, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 159, which establishes a number of school choice provisions. It includes a state funded voucher program, an expanded charter school program, makes open enrollment available in all districts and removes voluntary diversity programs from some larger districts.

The Cedar Rapids Community School District Board of Directors has a number of concerns with this omnibus education bill. We believe these provisions would be detrimental to Iowa’s public schools, including our local public schools.

Establishing a voucher program, even in this limited capacity, will lead to decreased funding for our public schools. It is our position that public tax dollars should be used to fund public schools. And only public schools. Unlike private schools, public schools provide a free education to all students, regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status. Unlike private schools, public schools must follow all guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Unlike private schools, public schools must provide accountability and transparency to their community and to the State of Iowa. Private schools are not universally accessible by Iowa families. This legislation would benefit a few, at the expense of the many.

Rather than diverting tax dollars to private entities, it is imperative to provide our public school with the resources they need. Public school funding has not kept up with costs in recent years. Our public schools need additional funding, not fewer resources. This legislation does not address the needs of the majority of Iowa families.

The establishment of charter schools also serves to reallocate resources away from serving all students to serving the few. Again, charter schools have little accountability to the public. While public tax dollars provide their funding, there is not necessarily oversight by the local, publicly elected Board of Directors in that school district. This gives control of tax dollars to a few people, who may not be representative of the local school district.

Public schools provide opportunities for all children. Public schools provide the bedrock of our democracy, a shared vision of providing a safe and equitable learning environment for all of our students. As CRCSD School Board members and as citizens of this community, we are committed to serving all of our families. SF 159 does not serve all of the families of Iowa.

This bill is being fast tracked and will advance to the Iowa House quickly. We encourage community members to contact their representative in the Iowa House to voice their concerns and send a strong message that our community supports opportunities for all children. Well funded, strong public schools provide those opportunities.

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You can find your state representatives’ contact information here: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find

Cedar Rapids School Board members include Nancy Humbles, president, David Tominsky, vice president and directors Gary Anhalt, Jennifer Borcherding, Cindy Garlock, Dexter Merschbrock, and Jennifer Neumann.

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