I was educated in a rural public school in Iowa and always took pride in Iowa’s long history of support for public schools. The notion that public dollars would go to private or charter schools is antithetical to the basic premise that public education is for all, a premise that dates to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 when Congress set up a system to pay for public schools in new states, extended by the Morrill Act of 1862 to land-grant state universities like Iowa State.
Taking a leap away from this precedent after 234 years dramatically undermines Iowa’s proud commitment to public education. The “Student First Scholarship” program is political slight-of-hand. It gives the appearance of offering students a “choice,” but in truth is only a choice for the privileged few. It diverts public tax dollars into private hands yet offers nothing to students remaining in underperforming schools. These are the schools deserving of our tax dollars, not private schools which can opt out of the mandate that public schools must educate all students in their district.
Some legislators or the governor may reap personal gain from shifting public funds to private schools. Do they have children who will qualify for the Student First Scholarships? Have they received campaign donations from private school interests? This is not hypothetical given that the past US Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos, owned and championed charter schools before and during her tenure as secretary.
Please do not mess with Iowa’s commitment to public education.