Guest Columnist

Iowa's public schools need more help, not less

Central City's elementary school on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Central City's elementary school on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

As the son of a fourth generation Iowa farmer — and someone who switched careers to become a teacher, coach, and (hopefully) positive influence on young people’s lives — I feel I have learned a great deal about common sense and pragmatism when it comes to problem-solving and overcoming adversity. For instance, when a field is not producing as it should, a good farmer does not just pack up and leave, but knows you reap what you sow. Bad inputs lead to bad outputs. The same holds for education; poor performing students and schools do not need less help, but more.

That is why the proposed bill moving through the state legislature on “school choice” (Senate File 159) is so head-scratching. We must ask ourselves why so many in the majority party want to take public tax dollars away from public schools and give to private entities with little or no oversight? This is also after years of below the cost of inflation “increases” from our Republican-controlled Statehouse. This lack of investment in our most precious resource — the education of our children — does not make much fiscal sense to this 5th generation Iowan, parent, and educator.

Gov. Kim Reynolds says it is all about giving “choice” and Sen. Amy Sinclair, chair of the Senate Education Committee, says, “How dare we say we know better than parents?” Well I’m now a parent of three (one of whom goes to a private school) and I say how dare Sinclair and others push legislation to take away resources and funding from our public schools that so desperately need it most? It is bad enough that teachers and public education in general are so despised and disrespected by Reynolds and others in the GOP, but when it hurts the students who need it most, it makes these policies all the more contemptible, loathsome, and despicable.

This bill will do little for those in the many counties that do not even have a private school option and for those that do live close enough to a private school the “choice” is and always has been available for parents to send their children there. This policy will serve to exacerbate an already sickening gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” as the overwhelming majority of parents who send their kids to private schools already have the means to do so. Furthermore, if only five students transfer out of a school that could mean the loss of another good teacher, coach, and mentor to districts who have already been cut to the bone and cannot afford any more losses. Finally, if “school choice” programs (vouchers and ESA’s) were so great then why does every state that has them rank below Iowa according to rankings by U.S. News and World Report?

We must also ask ourselves where does this madness end? What if I want my public park dollars to go toward a private park? What if I want my public road dollars to go toward my own private road? What if I want my public elected officials’ salary dollars to go toward my own private representative, senator, or governor? I think we all know what Reynolds and the rest of those supporting this disastrous legislation would think of that. Let’s make sure we look out for the greater good and keep public tax dollars out of private education.

Michael J. Jacobsen works in higher education, is a parent of three, and is a former high school economics, geography, government, psychology, sociology, U.S. history, world history, and world political theory teacher. He lives in Williamsburg. jacobsenmike84@gmail.com.

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