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Letter from the ICCSD Board of Directors: Whose choice really?


Jordan Sellergran/Little Village

Submitted by J.P. Claussen on behalf of the Iowa City Community School District school board

In the debate over private school vouchers, Governor Reynolds and her supporters are attempting to frame the decision to funnel millions of dollars away from Iowa’s public schools as “parental choice.”

One problem with this argument is that it isn’t actually parents who get to make the choice to send their kids to private schools, private schools have the absolute decision making power over who can and who cannot attend their school, and they don’t have to explain their reasoning.

Here is a list of some of the students and families who will struggle to find private schools who will accept them.

1. Families with no private school reasonably close to them (a majority of Iowans from rural areas).

2. Students with disabilities. Students with disabilities cost significantly more to educate than the $7,598 the state will provide to help cover tuition. The federal government only chips in about 15% of what is legally required for them to provide, so special education is a massively underfunded mandate, and one private schools are not obliged to adhere to.

3. English language learners. Students who are not proficient in English, likewise, require more resources to access education. Private schools do not have to accept students who are not proficient in English.

4. Low-income families. While the governor’s proposal has income guidelines that purport to help lower income families, many families who live with poverty experience a broad range of barriers to education. As a whole, students from families with a lower socioeconomic status are significantly behind their higher SES peers in terms of achievement and graduation rates, even in free public schools. The level of education in the home, lack of access to preschool, a lack of overall stability, a lack of access to mental health supports; the list could go on. Again, if a private school denies a family access to their school, they don’t have to explain themselves, they can just say no.

5. Students and families who identify as gay or transgender. Yes, these students exist. They are a minority of students in our schools, but they are real, as are gay parents. Some private schools don’t even want these students to acknowledge their, or their parents’, identity, let alone accept them into their school communities.

A cynic might believe there are families in Iowa who wish to keep their children separate from members of their community, described above. I do not believe most Iowans are this closed minded. This voucher plan will, however, make it much easier to create a segregated school system. This will not depend as much on parental choice as it will on the private schools’ decision about who they do and do not want to educate.


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