Guest Columnist

Coupons are a bad idea for schools

An empty classroom is seen at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
An empty classroom is seen at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

I’ve always been a fan of coupons. It’s an easy and painless way to get a discount from a private business.

Gov. Kim Reynolds in her recent State of the State address was all in on coupons, but her idea reverses how we usually use them. Reynolds proposed instead of the private business issuing a discount coupon to the parents, the taxpayers should provide the discount.

Make no mistake, private schools are private businesses, and “Student Savings Accounts” are simply publicly funded discount coupons commonly called vouchers just like the ones pushed by former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

I have no problem with private schools. They serve a purpose and parents who make this decision are choosing what’s best for their children. However, if they make that choice, they should pay for it and not expect to use public money for a private purpose.

People who think competition between public and private schools will strengthen public schools simply forget private schools can reject any student based on private admission standards. Public schools can’t.

Here are three additional reasons to reject vouchers.

• First, I’m quite sure private schools won’t accept the voucher amount as a student’s entire tuition. The voucher truly will be a coupon for a discount, unless the governor is proposing a huge amount for the voucher, and she isn’t. The governor’s proposal will cost $3 million per year and that will allow for a very modest coupon.

If it’s modest, what’s the big deal? Quite simply, it means a family who is struggling from paycheck to paycheck still won’t be able to afford the tuition. And it also means the Iowa Legislature and the governor will really be creating a new entitlement program for the wealthy.

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• Secondly, rural public schools struggling for enrollment will be harmed if only a handful of students leave. A very small number of students often determines if a rural school survives from year to year. Lawmakers who vote for this will be voting against protecting Iowa’s small towns.

With some exceptions, the majority of private schools in Iowa are not located in small communities because they are going to locate where there is growth potential. So, this proposal really harms rural Iowa towns three ways. First is the potential of rural schools closing and also by leaving a town an education desert without even a private school. Additionally, in most small towns, the public school district is the biggest employer, and that means the loss of jobs.

• Finally, public schools have been underfunded in Iowa for almost a decade. When I say underfunded, I mean funding not even matching the cost of living. Teachers are asked over and over to do more and more with less and less, and that is now catching up with the state.

Teacher education programs are not graduating enough teachers to cover the teacher exodus through retirements and attrition.

It’s a lot like giving a family, struggling to afford food, a coupon for $10,000 off a Lamborghini. Using the coupon would give them a luxury car while they starve.

We can’t afford to starve public schools to fund private.

Let’s work together to help public schools survive and thrive so all our children can have an education for the next century.

Bruce Lear of Sioux City retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools.

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