Public education in Iowa was established upon our Dec. 28, 1846, statehood. Today, parents are blessed to have six options for their children’s education: public school, public school in another neighborhood through open enrollment, virtual academy, private school, home school and independent private instruction.
With Iowa’s bountiful six school options, why do lawmakers want to increase our current public taxpayer outlay from $52,311,145 for school choice to $240,000,000 as noted in House File 9, Senate File 29 and public commentary by Rep. Walter Rogers (R-Cedar Falls)? The bills will be taken up during the 2018 legislative session.
• Few people realize $52 million of Iowa’s $7.5 billion budget subsidizes 44,226 privately educated students and sometimes the money goes directly to parents.
Public funding for private education is allocated as follows: $15.5 million for tuition and textbook tax credits, $12 million for school tuition tax credit, $8.2 million for nonpublic transportation reimbursement, $650,000 for nonpublic textbook reimbursement, $2 million for home school assistance payments given to home school parents, $1.6 million for classes in public schools that nonpublic students attend and $13 million funding for community partners preschool of 4-year-olds.
• According to the Iowa Poll (Selzer and Co.; Dec. 3-6), education is Iowan’s No. 1 priority and only 35 percent of citizens approve of the current Republican legislature-controlled education funding allocation. Furthermore, 65 percent of Iowans do NOT want private education to be supported by public funds.
Iowa’s budget is already $75 million in-the-red; it’s predicted an additional $45 million to $90 million spending cut is forthcoming in January, income projections for 2018 are not rosy and money doesn’t grow on trees. Question: Where would supplemental money come from to increase Iowa’s existing $52 million school choice allocation to $240 million? Answer: public education, causing many of Iowa’s public school districts, especially those in the rural area, to go bankrupt.
Public schools are required to be held accountable for teacher certification, educational attainment, student attendance, health maintenance and are controlled by a publicly elected school board. Since 2013, anyone can teach a home school educated child, the teacher needs no teacher certification let alone even a GED and no record of the student’s attendance, health record or educational achievement are required. Iowans still grieve over the 2017 deaths of homeschooled Natalie Finn and Sabrina Ray.
Other school choice issues have relatively been kept quiet from the public, including: 1) There is little evidence voucher programs of any kind have improved educational outcomes, 2) Nonpublic funding of education usually benefits the rich and 3) Students who are intellectually challenged, disabled, of the wrong religion, race, social class and/or have discipline problems could easily be shunned by private institutions and they would have no constitutional protection.
• With Iowa’s 1846 statehood declaration, public dollars were to be spent for the public good. Public education and privatized schooling in Iowa have already established a good-to-great working partnership and they respect each other’s unique role, function and purpose. Allocating $52 million of Iowa’s hard-earned tax money to support nonpublic and home schooling is generous to a fault.
A test of representation is before our legislators. “If” they represent the people and know 65 percent of Iowans don’t want public funds to go to private education, will they ignore the will and pleasure of their constituents or be responsible mature legislators, put the public before their party and defeat the currently proposed school choice bills?
Apprise the following Education Committee legislators of your feelings about HF 9, SF 29 and allocating $240 million (4.6 times current level) for school choice: Rep. Walter Rogers (R-Cedar Falls; Walt.Rogers@legis.iowa.gov), Rep. Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City; Sharon.Steckman@legis.iowa.gov), Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton; Amy.Sinclair@legis.iowa.gov) and Sen. Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls; JeffDanielson@gmail.com).
Steve Corbin is Professor Emeritus of Marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.