It’s been a busy start to the session. My inbox is full of emails regarding the ESA issue. I apologize for those I have not responded to. As the Chairman of the Education Committee, I’ve received emails from all over the state and it is quite the task to work through them to find the ones from my district. With that said, this email will cover the Governor’s Students First Act entirely.
To be fully transparent with you, I support school choice and do plan on voting in favor of this bill when it comes to the House Floor. This was an issue that I campaigned on and had many conversations about while I was running. I was very upfront regarding my support for parental choice. The Governor also campaigned on this issue as her number one priority and won statewide with 58% of the vote. This issue has not been hidden nor is it a surprise, it was taken directly to the voters. I feel Iowans made their voices heard at the ballot box this past November.
Below are six FAQ/Concerns I hear regarding this bill. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so hopefully this can help:
- “Public Money for Public Use” – Public money is taxpayer money. This public money already goes to private entities across the state and nation for countless projects and programs.
- WIC & SNAP recipients use for-profit corporations to purchase their goods with public money
- Medicare recipients don’t only use public hospitals.
- Section 8 housing recipients aren’t required to use public housing.
- Iowa’s statewide voluntary preschool program funds can go to private preschools
- The DOT contracts with private businesses to build our roads and bridges using public funds
- Public dollars that are used to build schools, jails, and government buildings are given to for-profit contractors for their services
- The Iowa workforce housing tax credit goes to for-profit developers to develop and build homes
- **Iowa Tuition Grant funds private higher education**
- I have sat on the House Education Committee for six years and in that time I have worked extensively with both our public regent universities and community colleges. I have never heard them complain or advocate against “public money” going to private education institutions
- This list could go on and on and on… The point → “public dollars” go to private entities in just about every aspect of government. This bill does not reinvent the wheel.
2. This bill allows for more flexibility for school districts when it comes to funding
- This bill will free up millions of dollars that can be used to increase teacher salaries/bonuses
- Currently, Iowa funds a number of programs within public schools but the money is not always fully used. This bill would reduce regulation that would allow schools to use the unused money for things like teacher salaries/bonuses
3. What this bill does to Public Education Funding
- This bill changes the way we count students and allocate money. Students who attend private school will still be counted in their public school’s total. This means for every student attending a private institution, $1,205 will still be allocated to the public school, even though they will not be teaching or using resources on the student.
- Secondly, the remaining per pupil funding dollars allocated for AEA’s and SAVE would go back to the general fund for potential redistribution to the remaining public school students. Another win for school funding4. “Private schools don’t have to accept everyone and have no accountability”
- I have never spoken to a private school that actively seeks to turn away students. What they do is honestly assess with parents their capabilities and restrictions they have due to funding limitations.
- I often hear, “public schools have to accept everyone” which isn’t necessarily always true either. When a school is at capacity, they turn open enrollment students away. Or, when a student has major behavioral issues, they may send them elsewhere.
- It’s also important to remember the mission of many of these private schools. Many are faith based institutions with moral convictions to help one another and those in need. This notion that they are actively seeking to turn students away with special needs I think is a red herring.
- Some will say private schools don’t have any accountability. I would argue that accredited private schools have the ultimate accountability measure. Failure. If the school isn’t doing its job, students will leave. If students leave, the school will be forced to shut its doors.
EXAMPLE: Sioux Center Christian School has 20% of its student body receiving some kind of special services. They have hired paraprofessionals, resource teachers, and more (and so have other local schools) to be able to enroll students with special needs. This funding is covered through their general budget. – Of course, funding is always a barrier to hiring extra staff, so the proposed ESA would help GREATLY with that. If they had access to the same funding that the public school receives, they would be able to further increase their support for students with special needs.
5. Private Schools have a number of reporting requirements
- Enrollment numbers
- ELL Count (English Language Learners)
- Assurances for accreditation (list of assurances they have to fill out for the state that says they will follow health, safety, etc. laws)
- Annual reports to their accrediting agencies which include teacher certifications, safety drills, progress on their school improvement plan, independent audit/assessment of financials, assurance that they are following all laws related to nonpublic schools
- Title funding usage data and details
- In addition, they share an annual report with their parents and community that includes financial data and student assessment scores6. Can Iowa afford this?
- I’ve heard some Iowans cite concerns about the cost of HSB 1. House Republicans have a reputation for being very cautious when it comes to the state budget. This has not changed.
- When fully implemented, the projected cost of this program is $341 million. In the same year, the state is projected to spend $3.9 BILLION on public education.
- Given current projections, in that same year the state will have a $3.1 BILLION ending balance and $3.7 BILLION in the Taxpayer Relief Fund.
- Ultimately, $341 million amounts to just 4% of the state’s annual budget. This program is not an existential threat to public education. Iowa can afford HSB 1.
Over the past few years the legislature has passed bills pertaining to online schooling, charter schools and collective bargaining reform, each time we heard that the sky would fall and Republicans were destroying public education. When we required in person learning during COVID, we were deemed monsters that cared very little for the life of teachers or students… None of these fears or accusations were based in reality. Iowa Republicans have only increased funding for our public education system, more than a billion dollars over the past 10 years to be exact. Matter of fact, the last time public education was cut was when Democrats were in control.
There are also a number of studies that show teacher salaries increase, student achievement increases, civic engagement increases, and most important of all, parental satisfaction increases when school choice is a part of the education conversation. Competition is a good thing that drives innovation and creativity. Inserting competition into our education system, I believe, will help drive better results.
Lastly, we have AMAZING public schools here in Iowa. Some of the best in the nation. I am a proud product of public schools and will continue to fight to ensure our students, teachers, and staff have the resources they need to educate our students. But this conversation does not have to be mutually exclusive. We can support our public schools while also giving parents the choice to do what they believe is best for their child. Education dollars are not intended to sustain a system, they are intended to educate children.