Strong public schools have always been the foundation of Iowa values and at the heart of our communities. For the last month, Governor Reynolds and some lawmakers have delayed the end of the 2022 Legislative Session until a private school vouchers system – that shifts money from public schools to private schools – is approved.
A majority of Iowans and lawmakers are opposed to private school vouchers, because parents are aware that they already have several choices for educating their children. They also understand that using vouchers to shift money away from 485,000 public school kids will result in more school closings, higher class sizes, and fewer opportunities for kids.
Instead of a choice for everyone, just two percent of Iowa students would potentially benefit from school vouchers while the remainder of public school kids would lose out with fewer opportunities. The state already provides over $100 million to private and homeschool services for items such as school lunches, textbooks, and transportation, as well as tax credits. While public school funding has barely kept up with rising costs, funding to private and homeschools has increased by 150 percent over the last six years.
Under Senate File 2369, a family of four making up to $111,000 per year could receive an estimated $5,221 from the state, in the form of a debit card, to send their child to private school. Apart from tuition, this could be spent on numerous expenses such as tutoring or a computer. That $5,221 figure would increase for English language training, and could more than double if a child is receiving special education. This poses a problem, as private schools are not required to accommodate these children and would rely on public entities such as Area Education Agencies (AEAs) to provide services. By the second year of the program, the nonpartisan Fiscal Services Division estimates that there would be a direct funding cut to public schools of $79 million.
For months, Governor Reynolds has been trying to strong-arm legislators into voting for her private school voucher scheme and has refused to let lawmakers adjourn until they pass it. So far, her efforts have failed.
Many Iowans have spoken out against this proposal and it currently does not have enough votes to pass the Iowa House of Representatives. Democratic lawmakers are united in opposition, and believe public money should be used for public schools.