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Iowa students face a harsh reality in the current education scheme of our state — they do not have equal opportunity.

Per-student funding is allocated to school districts rather than where it belongs — Iowa families.


In such a system, priorities shift for some — not all, but some — educators. And the priority isn’t always what is best for each and every individual student, but the priority becomes $$$.

Iowa Republicans are working to address this issue and making an effort to make sure education funds follow students. This would allow moms and dads to choose the best education for their children.

Call it what you want — school choice or simply competition — it makes everyone and everything better.

The Senate passed the Students First Act on Thursday. This bill will deposit per student funds into a Student First Scholarship for the family to be used for allowable expenses at whatever school they choose. The scholarships will go to students who are attending one of Iowa’s 34 failing schools.

Public, tuition-free charter schools are also an option under the bill. These charter schools are capable of providing high-quality instruction and contain increased flexibility to meet the educational needs of diverse and constantly changing student populations. Local school boards and founding groups will be allowed to apply to the State Board of Education to start a local charter school under the Students First Act.

One of the hidden gems in the bill is eliminating voluntary diversity plans that put families at the mercy of five school districts in Iowa when it comes to open enrollment. The five districts include Davenport, Des Moines, Postville, Waterloo and West Liberty. These plans are used to prevent students from open enrolling out of the district due to their family’s income level.

The Students First Act will also expand the Iowa Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit program, which allows moms and dads to receive a limited tax credit for educational expenses. The program would be increased to a tax credit to equal 50 percent of the first $2,000. It also increases the education expense deduction to $500.

Additional options will be created under the law for late-filed open enrollment requests for an academic good cause.

Democrats have attempted to paint the Student First Scholarships as vouchers. Democrat Claire Celsi has done it, along with others.

But that just is not the case.

Parents will be able to use the money for private school tuition, but they can also use it for tutoring, educational therapies or other eligible expenses. Should a mom or a dad elect to spend the funds for tuition, the funds can be used at any school that is chosen, not just private schools.

The Iowa State Education Association claims public funds would be diverted to non-public schools that are not required to adhere to this principle of equity.  That public funds should require accountability and transparency. That the bill would spend about $50 million to benefit 10,000 students.

Well, again, the scholarship money could be used for all kinds of education opportunities besides private schools — tutoring, educational therapies, curriculum fees, textbooks, advanced placement test fees and others.

Public charter schools will be accountable to performance standards agreed to in their charter and by their communities. They are often held to the same standard as the public schools, if not higher standards.

While ISEA can claim $50 million will be the cost, they do so while ignoring facts. According to the fiscal note from LSA, the program will cost the state between $1.1 million and $2.7 million. So they’re a little off.

Celsi also said that kids attending voucher schools and charter schools do much worse than kids who stay in the public school system..

Again, this just is not so. Nevermind Celsi is attempting to paint every child with the same brush, but a 2009 study found that across every grade and subject level, charter school students in New York City exhibited significant achievement gains when compared with their lotteried-out district school peers.

More than that, the gains increased the longer a student was in a charter school.

In 2014 a study found being admitted to a high-quality charter school in Los Angeles resulted in significant increases in math and reading scores. It also decreased the propensity to engage in risky behaviors.

A 2015 Urban Charter School Study by CREDO revealed students in urban charter schools gained 40 additional days of learning in math and 28 additional days of learning in reading per year compared to district peers.

Low-income Hispanic students in urban charter schools gained 48 additional days in math and 25 additional days in reading. Low-income black students gained 59 additional days in math and 44 additional days in reading per year.

Democrat Sen. Herman Quirmbach said the charter schools will get a portion of local property tax money from local schools. But again, the fact is the money placed in the Student First Scholarship does not — DOES NOT — include local uniform tax levy funds.

Quirmbach also quipped that the proposed law would “raid teacher’s salaries.”

Meanwhile, the fact is that the Students First Act allows districts to transfer unexpended and unobligated teacher salary supplement and teacher leadership salary supplement funding to the school district’s flexibility account.


Author: Jacob Hall


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