Increased competition in education could not only save Iowa taxpayers money, but it would also increase quality of education. That’s what state director of Americans for Prosperity-Iowa, Drew Klein, said Thursday at a Pizza & Policy event hosted by Sioux County Conservatives.
“People get really defensive when you start talking about education for the sake of workforce development,” Klein said. “Those people should be able to go seek classical education that really focuses on the basics and the stuff you assume would be in a classical educational setting. For a family that values more vocational or STEM-based education, we should allow them to go spend the resources the way they want on that type of program.”
Klein said the state should open up the funding formula and re-write it. He threw out the idea of removing property taxes from the funding. One idea would be to increase the sales tax to offset that.
“If we remove funding from property taxes we shift the focus away from some of those less accountable forms of governance and potentially create an opportunity for real property tax relief in the state of Iowa,” Klein said. “You still have accountability for those dollars — actual taxpayers voting and holding the decision makers accountable for what they do with those funds. If you could do that, you’d move from centralizing the funding of education so that it is uniform from a state level across all communities and you don’t have property rich districts and property poor districts. You can then free up those dollars and rather than funding the system of education you can attach the dollars to a student and let families decide what the student needs to be successful.”
The goal, ultimately, is to give more freedom and choice to parents and families in education. Attaching dollars to students would also encourage competition between public school districts.
“Right now the talk about school choice becomes a battle between private and public education,” Klein said. “If we move to a system where dollars are attached toa kid, you should get a lot of public school superintendents saying they can do better than their neighboring districts. They can recruit students from the next district over and then get the resources that come with those kids.”
About 40 percent of property taxes in Iowa go to fund education. Indiana altered its set up for property taxes to shift away from relying on local property tax revenues. The state takes on a larger role in the administration of the property tax revenues. Indiana eliminated a number of special local property tax levies and replaced the lost revenue with an increase in the state sales and use tax rates from 6 percent to 7 percent.
Klein said the state is paying $12,000 per year on average to educate a student. Private schools range from $6,000-$9,000.
“It’s not that test scores should be the determining factor, there are obviously a lot of external things in play as well, but private schools are doing a much better job of educating children with a lot less money than public schools are,” Klein said. “Some of that is there is no incentive for public schools to do more with less because they know the legislature, regardless of who is in control, will give more money the next year. We’ve had a flat population growth, so I don’t know why it costs more to educate kids the next year.”
Another solution to trimming some spending in education Klein mentioned is the idea of consolidating administration. Klein noted the superintendent in Des Moines Public Schools oversees 30,000-40,000 students.
“There are counties with 10 districts in the county and a superintendent is getting paid almost as much as the superintendent in Des Moines and oversees 500 kids,” Klein said. “If you’d just consolidate administration you could maintain local schools.”