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The Senate is now in the third week of the legislative session and members have been getting busier with subcommittee and committee work. This week was another full week as we debated our first bill of the year. House File 68, the school choice proposal put forward by the governor, passed the Iowa House and Senate this week. I was honored to sit in the Presidents Chair during the debate deliberations, known as the Students First Act. School choice has been a priority for me for many years. We have consistently shown dedication to Iowa parents, Iowa students, and a quality education to prepare them for a successful future. The Students First Act not only allows all families to choose their education path, but also allows public schools flexibility when allocating money including raising teacher salaries with unused funds.

The communications I received on this topic were really important and I appreciate my constituents taking the time to reach out with their questions and concerns. Please keep in contact as the session moves forward with your thoughts on the issues and legislation before the Senate.

The Students First Act creates an Educational Savings Account (ESA) for Iowa families to use to access a non-public school. This amount is equal to state funding provided to public schools. For next year it will be approximately $7,600. It will be available in the first year of implementation to incoming kindergarten students, students currently in public schools, and families with income of less than 300% of Federal Poverty Level. The program expands by year three to include all families.

One comment frequently made about the Students First Act is private schools are not accountable. This claim is easily debunked by the reality that private schools have the same accreditation standards used by public schools or by another accreditation system approved by the Iowa Department of Education. Students using an ESA to attend a non-public school are tested and evaluated in the same way students in a public school are tested, and those results are compiled and reported in the same way. Even more than the accreditation standards and testing, non-public schools have the very real and practical accountability realized by the presence of choice. The private school is fully accountable to their parents and wholly motivated to provide a product parents find acceptable, because if they don’t, parents can simply choose another option.

Many legitimate studies have shown the benefits of school choice to students in both public and private schools. States with broad school choice programs are seeing the results in their test scores. More specifically, test scores for rural students in states with broad school choice programs have also markedly outpaced the national average.

Finally, experiences in rural areas in Florida, a state with a robust school choice program, have seen an expansion of educational options in rural areas. Even with an expansion of options for rural students, a vast majority of students in rural areas remain in the public school and Iowa should expect the same results.

School choice movements are growing across the country with the goal of empowering parents and giving them choice in the education of their children. Iowa is now the national leader in providing that choice. In the coming years this state is positioned to once again be the national leader in student achievement.

Author: Brad Zaun


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