A new bill under consideration in the Iowa Senate would divert already scarce public funds away from Iowa school districts and send them to private schools. SSB 3206 would establish annual education savings grants of about $4,000 per student that a family could use to pay private school tuition. Because children using the grants would no longer be enrolled in their local public schools, those districts would no longer receive per-pupil state funds for those students. Vouchers often leave districts with the same overall operating costs but fewer dollars to pay for them.
That’s only one of their problems. Supporters argue that Iowa’s education savings grant is about giving families “choice.” But lessons from other states that have used school vouchers have found that it is not a choice everyone can make. Voucher payments often do not cover the entire cost of tuition or mandatory fees at private schools. Thus, families with the money to cover the rest of the cost are most likely to use them, leaving out low-income families. What’s more, 76,000 Iowa students live in counties where no private schools exist.
Finally, unlike public schools that are required to educate all students, private schools have the option of deciding what type of student they serve. A private school could take taxpayer money and also deny admission to almost any student it chooses based on gender, disability, religion, national origin, economic background, English proficiency, failure to test at grade level or history of behavior problems.
We believe that the purpose of public funds is to support public institutions that are accessible to all Iowans.
The full impact of the bill is unclear because there is currently no fiscal note available. Regardless, a Senate subcommittee moved the bill forward to the full Appropriations Committee Thursday, despite numerous advocate speaking out against it.
If you will be at or near the Capitol next Monday, March 26, please join advocates at the next Moral Mondays Iowa event to learn more. It’s at noon in Room 304 of the Iowa Capitol. Speakers are Sen. Jeff Danielson (Waterloo) and Melissa Peterson with the Iowa State Education Association.