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The school choice bill, SF 159, stirred up a lot of emotion last week. I believe a lot of misinformation has been passed out, both on purpose and accidentally. The best-known component of this bill is the Student First Scholarship. This provision creates a fund held by the Iowa Department of Education that a tiny portion of parents can access and use to choose a different school if their child’s needs aren’t being met.

First, only parents in schools that are identified for “Comprehensive Support and Improvement” can use this scholarship. Comprehensive Support and Improvement is the category in which individual school buildings (not the whole district) have tested in the lowest 5%. I hesitate to call them failing schools because parents and the students may have a part in the result, but the fact is that the system is failing. Students entering kindergarten may also access the scholarship.

This part of the bill only applies to one elementary school in Senate District 9. I won’t mention it publicly because I am reaching out to parents first to find out more from their perspective. But I believe if it involved more schools in the district the bill would be more important to us, not less. Those parents need options. Getting involved in their child’s education should be the first option. If that fails, they should have other options.

The rest of the bill hasn’t even been mentioned in emails I have received. Division 2 creates new, more open charter school language to give public schools a route to innovate free from many of the regulations from the state and federal government. I’ve been trying to lessen regulations for years. We can go further on this subject, but this bill is a good start.

Division 3 eliminates voluntary diversity plans that are actually a farce used by our largest city schools to deny open enrollment opportunities for parents looking for a better option for their child. One district even used this as an excuse to deny a child open enrollment after she was raped by another student. He remained in the school and taunted her.

Division 4, 5, 6 streamlines data collection and reporting requirements to dedicate more time to teaching, increases the amount classroom teachers can claim in personal expenses and that amount a credit towards their income tax, not just deductible. It also increases parents’ tuition and textbook credit. This puts money back in the hands of parents and teachers.  It updates the way we count enrollment to better reflect where students are.

Division 7 and 8 better define open enrollment and offer more flexibility to add to the parents’ ability to choose schools, and puts into code that school boards are responsible for the education of students.

Most of the opposition misinformation has come from a few groups. Union bosses are going to oppose anything that affects dollars spent in public schools. The union leaders in Des Moines care about dues, not students. It’s their job.

Superintendents are concerned about changes to funding as well, but also want to compete on a level playing field. I agree with them on this, but the answer is to lower regulation on them, not raise it on someone else.

Some also see public education as an opportunity to teach or indoctrinate Iowa’s children and sway them against the more conservative and Christian values parents are instilling.

Parents in general are concerned about anything that threatens their child’s education. The misinformation gave them concerns. But this bill only helps our local schools. Even the schools that are involved in the Student First Scholarship should become better.

The opposition told our local citizens it would cost $50 million. False. In round numbers, there are 10,000 children who could use this scholarship out of 400,000 Iowa students. Experience in similar programs show three to five percent of those will take advantage of it – 300 to 500 students statewide.

Even if you hate the opportunity for 500 students to have a chance to improve themselves, the rest of the bill helps our parents, teachers, and schools statewide. Please, give them a chance.

Author: Jason Schultz

State Sen. Jason Schultz served three terms in the House prior to being elected to the Iowa Senate. Schultz served seven years in the National Guard and served as volunteer fire fighter for the Schleswig Volunteer FD for 13 years, two years as the department's chief.