Guest Columnist

Iowa students benefit from school choice

The Gazette

The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.
The Gazette The House chamber at the State Capitol Building in Des Moines.

Some ideas have an instinctive, hard-to-deny logic about them. Take school choice, for instance.

Who would dispute parents know the most about their children, and can and should make one of the most important decisions of their children’s lives — where their youngsters attend school? This past week, National School Choice Week, we reflected on the ways in which school choice not only makes perfect sense — it leads to better outcomes for families and taxpayers, too.

In Iowa, school choice takes many forms, and these forms can work together. Some Iowa families can select open enrollment, in which students attend public schools outside neighborhood boundaries. Iowa parents can home-school their children, choose a non-public school, choose online learning, or, depending on where they live, choose public charter or magnet schools.

Some Iowa families can also receive assistance from a School Tuition Organization (STO) to attend the accredited, non-public school of their choice. These tuition grants allow children in families of modest means to access the educational option working best for them. While the legislature has limited the funding for STO grants, more than 10,000 Iowa children each year have benefited from this school choice program.

At the heart of school choice is the knowledge that children learn differently, and offering a variety of affordable learning environments to all children, regardless of income, is the best way to help Iowa children succeed.

School choice doesn’t just help families and students; it also saves taxpayers money.

Two recent studies of more than two dozen opportunity scholarship programs found they saved taxpayers at least $4.9 billion, or an average of more than $3,100 per student. Here in our state, the Iowa Department of Revenue recently found that our STO program saves Iowa taxpayers more than $12 million per year. By improving educational outcomes while also saving public funds, school choice represents the ultimate “win-win” situation for Iowans.

Some critics argue school choice undermines public education, but this is not so. In addition to saving the state money which could be used for public education, school choice improves performance in public education.

Of 33 studies examining the effects of school choice programs, fully 31 studies concluded private school choice improved the educational outcomes for the students who remained in public schools. The competition and innovation sparked by school choice can enhance the learning experience for public and private school students alike.

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Giving children the opportunity to be educated in a place that best meets their educational needs sparks the joy of learning and turns them into lifelong learners.

Iowa families deserve the joy school choice can bring, just as they deserve to see the improved educational outcomes that result from giving families more quality options. Let’s work to expand school choice to every family and every child across the Hawkeye State. It’s the right thing to do for their future — and ours.

Trish Wilger is the executive director of the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.

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