You should be aware that in the current session of the Iowa Legislature, proponents of "school choice" are once again mounting a campaign to funnel public tax dollars to private schools and home-schoolers. They want government-subsidized choice without government oversight or regulation.
You likely are not aware that Iowa taxpayers are already on the hook for over $65 million in subsidies each year to private schools in Iowa. Nearly all of these schools are religious schools. While only 6 percent of the students in elementary schools in Iowa are in private schools, all taxpayers help pay for their education (and religious training) through the state taxes they pay. And in nearly three-fourths of Iowa public school districts, there is no private school option.
Funding of public education in Iowa is already woefully inadequate, and that is particularly disheartening. Iowa at one time was able to brag about being No. 1 in education and even placed an old, one-room school house with the caption "Foundation in Education" on the back of its state quarter.
Until the mid-1990s, education funding was calculated using a formula that adjusted annually for cost-of-living increases. Since the mid-90s, State Supplemental Aid, or SSA, has been set each year by the Legislature based on financial and political priorities.
The SSA percentage is arguably the best, single indicator of K-12 funding trends in Iowa. Unfortunately, the SSA percentage is on a downward trend from 4 percent from FY 2006-2010 to a 1.8 percent average over the succeeding eight years and closer to 1 percent the last few years. This level of funding will not cover increases in operational costs let alone allow our schools to take the necessary steps to return them to the position of prominence that once made us all proud.
In addition to over $65 million in subsidies each year to private schools, the Iowa Legislature would expand the subsidies through the creation of education savings grants. The term is a ruse.
These proposals would end up costing over $100 million per year and potentially up to $200 million, money that could instead be used to strengthen education in the public schools.
The impact would be particularly severe on school districts in rural Iowa which are already under strain from high transportation costs and a smaller tax base than in urban areas. In 242 of Iowa's 330 public school districts, there is no private school offering classes in any grade. Private schools are concentrated in the metropolitan areas.
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Proponents want to have their cake and eat it, too. Those who accept public money must be expected to follow the same rules and transparency required in public schools.
Public schools have publicly elected school boards that must follow state laws requiring an accounting of how every dollar is spent. Private, parochial, online and home schools do not have publicly elected governing bodies and are permitted to operate with no transparency in how they spend their tuition revenue.
Public schools cannot permanently dismiss a student for not adhering to its rules. Private, charter and parochial schools can.
Public schools are required to offer a special education services. Private, charter and parochial schools do not.
Public schools must accept all children. Private, charter and parochial schools do not.
Public schools must give and record Iowa assessments. Private, charter and parochial schools do not.
Since 2013 anyone can teach a home-schooled child. The teacher needs no teacher certification, let alone a GED. And no record of the students' attendance, health record or educational achievement are required.
A poll conducted by the Des Moines Register shows that only 35 percent of Iowans favor using public funds for private schools. Apparently a number of members of the Legislature feel that they know better than the people of Iowa and have decided that they can ignore their wishes. This is not how it should work.
Please let your legislators know that you feel the proposed legislation is detrimental to rural North Iowa.