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Letter to the editor: Is education in Iowa a zero sum game?


Pixabay

By Syndy Conger, Iowa City

A zero-sum game is a mathematical representation in parlor games and economic theory of a situation that involves two sides, where the result is an advantage for one side and an equivalent loss for the other. As a result, they are fiercely competitive. Examples of games include poker, chess, and bridge, as well as certain investments available from financial companies. A zero-sum game is how Republican legislators want to transform K-12 education. The two sides will be public schools versus private schools, but the two sides will not have an even playing field.

Their plan allows parents and students to choose private schools and when they do, set up an education savings account for each student that withdraws funds directly from the public school budget that they would have otherwise attended, hence depriving the public schools of dollars — nearly $7,600 — they calculated as income in their budgets for the year.

Depending on how this plan is implemented, however, it may mean major budget troubles for the public schools. The proposal means public schools could lose the majority of the per-pupil funding for any students who choose to attend a private school. The legislation, however, would allow school districts to retain just $1,200 for every student who lives in the district but attends a private school. Whenever a family opts for private education during the year, it will have an immediate negative impact on the public school’s budget. Even if families made this decision at the start of the school year, it would still cause last-minute belt-tightening for schools.

The competition includes many handicaps for public schools, such as the following: Public schools required to offer classes to all students in their districts might have to continue to serve students who now attend a private school but opt to play sports or participate in extra-curricular activities, or those who require forms of special education required by law. Public schools are also subject to scrutiny from school boards, parents in their districts, and state oversight requirements. If lawmakers resurrect last year’s ideas, the state may write rules for public schools that hold them to strict accountability for every dollar and transparency so complete that it involves never deviating from class plans set before the semester begins and cameras in every class. Those same standards of transparency will not be required of private schools. New private schools will have little to no oversight from the state or the district, and will not be held to any accountability standards for using public tax dollars or transparency in how and what they teach.

Will the legislature find ways to avoid this “rob Peter to pay Paul” game which will create hardships for many parents and children in areas without either local public or private schools, as well as the public schools themselves? Will families who homeschool their children receive the same funding as those who choose a private school? Will families abandon their small communities to seek more opportunities for the children in cities? Will families leave the state? Will some local public schools have to close their doors?

Urge your legislators to raise the annual education allocation to 3.5 percent or 4 percent to make the rules of this game fair and equitable.


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