Support strong Iowa public schools — not a new publicly funded massive private school voucher program

It’s another year where new public taxpayer funding for private school vouchers (“Education Savings Accounts”) is being debated in the legislature. The current bills proposed on this, and to be debated next week in the legislature, would mean over $7,000 in new state funding for each student voucher (ESA) annually, and by year four is expected to cost the state well over 300 million dollars annually.

This comes at a time period lately when public schools’ Supplemental State Aid (SSA) percentage has been in the 2percent range and not even close to keeping up with rising costs and inflationary pressures on schools the past couple years. There seems to be a major disconnect between the number of Iowans in both parties that support a massive expansion of taxpayer-funded private education when compared to the number of legislators that appear to support them.

In addition to this huge additional taxpayer cost, which comes at the expense of adequate resources for public education (which currently educate over 90percent of Iowa’s children), there are many other reasons to oppose this bill:

Vouchers don’t offer parents real choice. Private schools pick and choose who they accept. Public schools accept all students. Many private schools can and do turn away students that may have significant learning or physical disabilities.

Almost 75percent of public schools are in rural areas with little to no access to private schools. Most families will be excluded from participating in a voucher program.

Locally elected citizen volunteers oversee our public schools and represent the community’s voice. Private schools are governed by self-appointed boards of trustees with no public oversight over how public money would be spent. Public schools must also account for their revenues and expenditures through an independent annual financial audit – this is not a requirement of private schools receiving funds under this bill, so taxpayers would have no way of knowing where these dollars really go. Those that support transparency and accountability should strongly oppose any bill like this that dramatically increases the likelihood of the fleecing of Iowa’s taxpayers.

This will harm the ability of rural public schools to adequately staff their programs. There is a teacher shortage in many subject areas already, and it has been worsening the past several years. Expansion of public funds to private schools, and their subsequent need to hire additional staff will only make this situation worse for public schools.

Students in public schools are achieving more than ever, with more course offerings, earning college credits, and gaining valuable community service and work experiences, along with technical training.

Iowa is home to some of the best public schools in the country. Expanding our investment in Iowa schools and their programs through adequate funding is a far better choice for Iowa than committing hundreds of millions in new taxpayer funds to private school vouchers, which ultimately comes at the expense of public education.

Are legislators of both parties really reaching out to and listening to the vast majority of their constituents at home on this issue? It appears that very top-down demands from a small number of political leaders and big-money donors that stand to profit from the bill are driving this narrative far more than the wishes of most Iowans from all political parties.

Please consider contacting your legislator to let them know of your support for public education in Iowa.


Ben Petty is the superintendent of the BCLUW Community School District.


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