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Last week, in her Condition of the State address, Governor Reynolds presented a bold and transformative plan to reform our education system. This, of course, has ignited an intense debate in our state, and we have seen the teachers’ union leaders spread falsehoods and outright lies about the Students First Act. They claim proponents of school choice are waging war against public education. They’re making such outlandish claims because they’re far more devoted to protecting their own interests instead of putting students, parents and even their own members first.

I was elected to represent House District 26 to serve constituents’ best interests and “call it like I see it.” So, I write to you today to tell you the truth about the Governor’s Students First Act, and begin to debunk the falsehoods that its opposition is spreading.

First off, the bill does NOT defund any money from the public school system and reappropriate it to a private school. If a parent chooses to send their child to a public school, then that school will continue to receive $7,598 to educate that student. If a parent decides to use an Education Savings Account to send their child to a non-public accredited school, then the state of Iowa will contribute $7,598 to the parent’s Education Saving Account. The money goes directly to the parent, not the school.

Secondly, the current education plan appropriates NEW money to our public schools. Currently, public schools do not receive categorical funding for a private school student who resides in their school district. Under this piece of legislation, school districts would receive $1,205 for every student in their district that is enrolled in a private school. This would be NEW dollars for our public schools that they are not currently receiving.

In addition to more funding, we are tearing down barriers to give public schools greater flexibility to spend the money they receive. Currently, the state appropriates nearly $250 million annually for three programs: Teacher Leadership & Compensation, Professional Development, and Talented & Gifted. There is nearly $100 million in those funds that have went unspent over the years. Under the Students First Act, public school districts would be able to use their unspent money from these programs towards teacher salaries.

You may be saying to yourself: “Most of that unspent money exists in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, and that rural Southern Iowa will not benefit from it.” Well, according to the Department of Management, there is $1.96 million in unspent money from those programs across the six public school districts that I represent. If we were to pass the governor’s proposal, that means Albia, Davis County, Centerville, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont, Moravia, and Moulton-Udell school districts collectively could use nearly $2 million towards teacher salaries.

And lastly, the teacher’s union likes to say “public dollars belong in public schools.” Well, there is no such thing as government dollars. There are only taxpayer dollars and that money belongs to the taxpayer – not the teacher’s union.

To recap: this piece of legislation will appropriate new money towards our public school system, it will tear down barriers so that public schools can pay their teachers a higher salary, and, most importantly, it will empower parents to have control over their child’s education.

I am a strong supporter of our public schools. I am the product of a small, rural public school and my mother taught for over 30 years at a public school. I believe they do a great job of educating our children. I believe this bill will strengthen public schools and provide educational choice to parents.

But it is not up to me, the school district, nor the teacher’s union to tell parents the best way to educate their children. That is a decision that only the parents can make and I believe they have the right to do what is best for their child – no matter their financial means.

That is why I will proudly be voting ‘yes’ on the Students First Act and I look forward to answering any questions you may have. I want to make sure you have the facts, and not just spin from special interest groups.

Author: Austin Harris


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