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‘Our public schools are not failing, elected officials are failing them’: Iowans opposing voucher bill flood legislature with comments


Gov. Kim Reynolds shouts out her husband for helping dye her hair towards the end of her Condition of the State Speech, Jan. 10, 2023.

Since Gov. Kim Reynolds used her Condition of the State address to promote plans to divert funding from public schools to tuition vouchers in the form of “education savings accounts” (ESAs) for students attending private schools, the legislators expected to approve her proposed reforms have been inundated with messages from constituents.

Under Senate Study Bill 1022, introduced by the governor on Jan. 10, all K-12 students would have the $7,598 per student the state provides to a public school district deposited in an ESA if they attend private schools. There are family income restrictions limiting who qualifies during the first two years of the program, but starting in the third year there is no longer any income cap for qualifying families. Meanwhile, the public school district a student chooses not to attend would receive reduced funding — $1,205 annually, down from $8,803, for each private school student in the district.

Reynolds’ plan is expected to cost $918 million over its first four years, according to projections from the governor’s staff.

SSB1022 was approved on a party-line vote by the Republican majority on the Iowa Senate’s education subcommittee on Jan. 12 in a room overflowing with Iowans opposing the voucher program. Many of these opponents, and hundreds of others, registered their complaints online with the education committee.

While some of the comments left under the express support for the voucher program (often citing the need to fight woke ideology in Iowa’s public schools, or to empower parents that choose to homeschool) the vast majority condemn it. This aligns with polls that indicate most Iowans do not support a voucher program.

Below are a selection of 60 comments posted by teachers, parents, administrators, alumni of Iowa’s schools — Iowans of all ages and backgrounds, products of public and private schools — urging state legislators to reconsider or outright abandon plans to reform Iowa’s education system in favor of private institutions. Commenters’ full names have been omitted except those of elected officials and other public figures, and some comments have been edited for length. All emphasis (i.e. bolding) is on the part of Little Village.

The newly-formed Education Reform Committee of the Iowa House of Representatives will hold a public hearing on the House version of Reynolds’ bill in the State Capitol Building’s Supreme Court Chambers (Room 103) on Tuesday from 5-6:30 p.m. Comments have been pouring in on that webpage as well.

Signs supporting public schools wave during a town hall with Joni Ernst at Coe College. Friday, March 17, 2017. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Parents and former students

As a public school parent, and mother of a child with dyslexia who receives extra support through an IEP, I ask that you please vote NO to vouchers. Public schools cannot continue to be drained of their resources. They are responsible to meet the needs of all students, regardless of socioeconomic circumstances and disabilities. Private schools do not have the same accountability for who or what they teach and therefore should not receive government funding. Let’s reinvest in public schools and put Iowa back on top. —Tanya B.

 

Opposed. I have three schoolage children, and I want them to have good public schools, not a choice between unaccountable private schools and underfunded public schools. Don’t blame this special interest bill on us parents! —Shannon P.

 

I have three children in public schools. My 15 year old son has autism. Because of his disabilities, private schools will not accept him. Even if he received a voucher, he would not be able to use it. When you hear the term school choice, remember that private schools have the choice who to accept. Not the students. Not their parents. Tax dollars should not be given to schools who can discriminate against children like my son and who do not have to comply with the same rules as public schools who also receive tax dollars. Every public school district in Iowa has the word community in its name. They are run by school boards that consist of elected community members and are accountable for every tax dollar that they spend. They do not deny any child an education. Will private and charter schools be held to the same standard? I am concerned that if this bill passes less money will be available for the programs my son needs in his public school. Please consider the impact these proposals would have on some of Iowa’s most needy students. Students like my son, who will never have a “choice.” —Kerry L.

 

I oppose SSB1022, The Students First Act, as written. I was educated first through 12th grades in a private school without direct public funding. Our church paid the entire cost of physical plant and operating costs, including teachers. If the current Republican majority campaigned on change as outlined in SSB1022, and were elected because of it, some form of the legislation may pass despite protests. The bill’s language was filed just this week. I encourage Republicans to work with Democrats to make the final product much better than it is today. Consider and accept amendments now, and during debate. If Iowa will go down this path and give public funds to private schools, inclusion of the broadest possible input is needed. There is no hurry to get this done. Take your time. Do what’s right for Iowa. For me, that means rejecting the bill as written. —Paul D.

 

I moved back to Iowa. I moved BACK to Iowa from Colorado, where I had gone to undergrad and graduate school. I moved back to Iowa to start a family. I moved back to have my child get the education I received growing up in Iowa. I moved back because when I was going through school in Iowa it was top in the nation. I moved back because I wanted that for my child. I moved back and now I see 20 years later, it is not the same. I moved back and I see that public education which is what our state quarter prided itself on, is no longer funded and valued by our state government. I moved back and see that governor and legislature want to defund it more and provide public money for private institutions, private institutions that would have no recourse for denying to educate my child because he has two moms. I moved back to Iowa and am dismayed at what is going on. I moved back and wished I had stayed. I moved back but know now many high school seniors will make the decision to go to school out of state, and many of them will not move back. —Devon M.

 

As someone who has both sent her children to private school and homeschooled through my public school district’s homeschool program, I am completely opposed to the state taking valuable and needed resources from the public schools and putting them towards vouchers for private schools. Why do I feel that way when I could have benefited from vouchers when my children attended school? Because I value the public school system and know we need a very strong public school system to prepare our children to succeed in their lives. —Diane R.

 

I was born and raised in Iowa and was fortunate to attend great K-12 public schools and the University of Iowa. After college, I was like many new graduates who couldn’t wait to spread my wings and moved to Tennessee. I taught in Memphis City Schools and saw first hand how underfunding public schools and pushing private schools has an extremely negative impact on students. In the 1970s over 100 new private schools opened in the city and resources left the schools. By the time I began teaching, less than 30% of our students were proficient in math, many of my high school students couldn’t read and the classes were filled with special needs students while non-special ed students fled to the private schools. The teachers were overwhelmed and all students were falling behind. The district tried magnet schools which reduced a sense of community as students were spread across the city and the concept of neighborhood schools was lost.

When I had my first child, we specifically chose to move back to Iowa for the schools. Nothing else. Now I am appalled by the lack of real understanding about the long term consequences of these vouchers. We need to give schools more flexibility in how they spend their funds so they can reduce class sizes, offer competitive pay and innovate. Throwing a bunch of single year grants or special projects at schools is not going to improve them. We need to stop assuming that people outside of education are experts in how to run and improve education. We don’t allow educators to go to corporations in the state and tell them the specifics of how they should do their work. Support Iowa schools, invite their ideas and really think about the significant consequences of these vouchers that are so difficult to fix. Do your research and look at districts that lose a lot of students to private schools. It’s a disgrace what it does to public schools. —Kristine B.

 

Our rural school district struggles to retain teachers. My high school senior has *never* in 4 years had a full year of Spanish instruction from a teacher qualified to teach Spanish. Removing more funding will not make these struggles better. —Holle M.

 

I strongly oppose this bill. I’m the last of my family to live in Iowa. My parents and siblings have all moved away to states that have more to offer. I stayed with my family so my kids could attend some of the best schools in the nation. I pay taxes so all children in the state of Iowa can receive free, quality public education. Not just mine. I want to live in a well educated society. I want my children to know all children in the state of Iowa matter and deserve to be educated. —Vicki S.

 

My husband and I are the parents of two grown daughters. Our oldest just graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in Ethics & Public Policy, and our youngest is currently a student at Kirkwood Community College studying Business Administration. Both of our girls attended diverse, urban public schools and benefited greatly from their experience. I am a firm believer that strong, quality public schools are vital to the health and vibrancy of a community, as well as our state. The moment Iowa legislators begin considering measures that shortchange our public school systems, is the moment in which our communities begin to suffer. If decision makers were to take the time to look back through the past 70+ years and really examine the role quality public schools have played in building strong communities, it would be time well spent. I encourage Republicans to take a moment and step back from the controversy. There’s an opportunity to take a different approach and seize the opportunity to learn from the past. —Jane H.

 

I am a graduate of private schools in Iowa. My parents had the choice to send their kids to private school back in the 80s and parents today have the choice to send their kids to private schools. I am currently the mom of a 5th grader in the Iowa City public schools. That is also a choice my family made. Every dollar taken out of public schools is a dollar taken out of a shared community. Public schools educate ALL for the good of society. Public schools cannot continue to educate kids without investment. And that means keeping up with inflation. 2.5% is not giving schools what they need. It is undercutting their ability to educate our kids. And the state has been under investing in our state for at least ten years. Please do not take money from our community and our schools to prop up private entities. —Katy K.

 

Please support public money for public schools. Having 3 children currently in public schools (by choice), it has been so discouraging to see what the conservative legislature is doing to my children’s education. … My education at Pleasant Valley during the height of public school funding far surpassed my private school classmates in college. I have seen firsthand how amazing Iowa’s public schools can be when they are fully funded. My husband and I chose to stay in Iowa primarily for the quality of the public schools and the state’s commitment to public education.

It has been difficult over the last six years having to explain to my youngest child why she doesn’t have the same educational opportunities that her oldest brother had. You see, since my son started kindergarten 10 years ago, our district has been forced to cut Spanish from elementary school, elementary specials, two foreign languages from the high school, not to mention all of the staff that has been cut. This includes our district trying to save money by combining my daughter’s first grade class with a kindergarten class so they only had to hire one teacher. You may use this as evidence that public schools are failing, but to me it’s evidence that the Iowa legislature is failing. —Elizabeth L.

 

As a Ph.D./J.D. with all of my education in public schools, I beg you, please don’t. My kids’ rural public school, of which I have the highest regard, will be harmed by this bill. If parents want to send their children to private school, I am completely in favor; but not at the expense of my tax dollars and local public schools. Private schools will raise tuition to the point where this will only benefit families with children who don’t need special education that can currently afford private schools. I fall into this group but I do not wish to send my children to private school. I want to raise all boats. My children get a good education at the local public school and I do not wish for my town to suffer because the school and students are suffering. —Kathryn Cox

 

When we moved our young family to Iowa 12 years ago we enlisted the research help of my mother before buying a home. As a longtime, elected school board member of a large district in Florida she was a resource in helping us analyze the overall performance and school districts in Iowa’s education system. Her findings were surprise and admiration at the robust strength and performance of the states public school system and comfort with us choosing any district in the area we were planning to live. For many years, Iowa boasted a long, proud history of being a national leader in education.

Currently, Iowa parents have multiple options for school choice including: in district transfer, district-to-district public school open enrollment, charter schools, strong nonpublic schools, home school options and publicly funded School Tuition Organization tax credits. Parents have the choice to enroll their child in a private or religious school, but they should not take public taxpayer funds. —Betsy M.

 

I live in Carroll, Iowa. I graduated from Kuemper high school and my four children did as well. I support our private Catholic school personally. I oppose vouchers for private schools. I believe that tax dollars should be spent on public schools. 90% of the children in Iowa are educated in our public schools. They have been grossly underfunded for a decade. The current proposal of a 2.5% increase for this year is far from adequate when inflation is running at 8%. Public schools educate all children are an equalizer of opportunity for all children. I want my tax dollars spent to support public schools. —Mary B.

 

The Catholic Church fully funds their schools and provides scholarships for those in need. No vouchers needed. We have a Lutheran school in Page County, the only private school. It is also fully funded by the Lutheran Church and provides scholarships for those in need who want to attend. Not even half the counties in Iowa have a private school. Vouchers are unfair! —Jennifer H.

 

We recently had to put my teenage son into a private school in Davenport because he has some special needs and his former school had a series of rapid-fire, serious safety threats. The school couldn’t meet his needs and couldn’t provide a sense of safety. So yeah, my kid is now in a private school. I still absolutely, 100% oppose the vouchers. The answer isn’t to help a few kids in a few areas transfer more cheaply at the cost of everyone else. The answer is to fund and support our public schools and teachers so Iowa students and parents aren’t forced to change out of need and fear! It’s absolutely shameful that the public schools have already been gutted so much, and doing more is going to hurt everyone in the long run. And it’s certainly fiscally unsustainable; it’s putting K12 on the same ruination path of higher ed, where scrambling schools compete over every student dollar and the result is everyone, whether in public or private schools, being so burdened by debt that they have no chance of success. This will discourage families coming into Iowa and encourage those of us here to leave. There are no upsides for the people of Iowa. —Amy Y.M.

 

Iowa public schools need to be strong in order for the state to entice young people to stay here or to move back. None of my children plan to stay in Iowa after graduating from college. My eldest is marrying a teacher and they know if she wants a better teaching experience they will need to move elsewhere. Teaching in Iowa is an environment of scarcity. Resources are scarce. Time is scarce. Morale is low. It’s not hard to see why schools are this way. The Iowa Legislature has declared war on public schools. Each year the funding is less that what is needed. Each year teachers are stripped of more autonomy. Each year they are handed rules and regulations created by noneducators who don’t know their ass from their elbow. Each year teachers are told they are what is wrong with the world. Each year teachers are deprived of the respect they deserve. —Kristen B.

 

Educators

I am a retired teacher with 41 years of experience in public schools in Iowa. My first teaching position was as a science and math teacher in a rural community. Those first few years were a challenge as they are for any new teacher. I learned so much more about the art and science of teaching from the veteran teachers and staff than I did in all my education courses. But what I also learned is that a school is the whole community! Small, rural schools are the nucleus of the community. Everything seems to center around that school. Community members without students come to the games, the concerts, the plays, the events. Parents, grandparents, and community members volunteer in classrooms, at ballgames, and wherever help was needed. Local businesses participate and donate. Working together to create a stable and strong community through the support of the students in their schools. Budgets were tight. They were always tight, but vouchers will create an even greater hardship for our rural school districts. Strong public schools have been what Iowans could be proud of, but to keep strong public schools, they need to be adequately funded. Vouchers are wrong for Iowa for many reasons but destroying our public schools in the process is shameful. —Ruth H.

 

As a first-year teacher, this school voucher bill is very disheartening. Iowa public schools are already doing everything they can with their limited budgets and low staff numbers. This bill will not fix those problems. What Iowa needs is more funding for public education to allow schools to provide the resources to ensure a fair and quality education for ALL students. I encourage each of you to work in a public school for one day. I imagine you will learn a lot about education. Public funding should go towards public education, not to private organizations who have the ability to discriminate against students. I highly encourage you to vote no on this bill for the sake of the children. —Matthew K.(third grade teacher)

 

In the summer of 2005, after my husband completed his residency in Indiana, we moved with our new son back to Iowa for the public schools. We wanted our children to go to school with people from all backgrounds, beliefs, and abilities. Iowa public schooling was what helped us grow up to be well rounded and compassionate people who work for and with people: my husband is a family practice doctor and I am a public school teacher. As a Christian, I feel that I am the hands and feet of Jesus when I am in my classroom and working with my students of all abilities, faiths, beliefs, and backgrounds. I do not need to lead prayer in my classroom to be a Christian, but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly praying for guidance or for my students.

We have two sons and both are looking at getting out of the state we once loved because of the bills that keep getting introduced which are not in the best interest of Iowans. To be honest, we are looking at leaving the state because we are tired of the fight, no matter how much we love this state we grew up in. The politicization of COVID, the defunding of public schools, the lack of mental health resources, and being called names while trying to serve others has been demoralizing, to say the least. And now fast tracking this out-of-state-idea voucher program to subsidize private education for those who already have choice is unconscionable. Our students and patients are struggling with poverty, hunger, and mental health. —Laura H.

 

I am writing in strong opposition to SSB 1022. I am a 20-year veteran public school teacher. I currently teach reading intervention in a large suburban district in the Des Moines area. With the change to open enrollment legislation during the last legislative session, our public school is seeing a rapid increase in open enrollments and new enrollments into our schools. Many of these students come to us with gaps in their foundational reading and math skills. It takes resources, both human and financial, to meet these students needs and provide them with the education that every child deserves. This bill will redirect precious financial resources away from my school to private schools that are under no obligation to accept students who need intensified support in academics. We all want a state where citizens are literate, engaged, and well-prepared to contribute to our society. Please don’t remove the best pathway in America to that reality: a free, quality public education. —Janice A.

 

I am a current special education teacher in a rural district in Iowa and parent of children that attend school in the same district. I have read your bill and it seems more of a handout to private and charter schools. You do not hold the same standards for those institutions as you do for public schools. You want to take money from the families that believe in accountability in schools. What you call choice I call hurting the students of Iowa. Please ask all parents what they want not your cherry-picked few. Explain to parents whose IEPs and services can be denied, accountability and testing are not required, students can be denied or removed at the discretion of the school. Explain how you tie the hands of public schools to gladly give money to schools that can shut down mid-year. Be honest and be transparent. —Jen K.

 

As a parent of three school age children and an educator for 20 years, I am writing to plead with you to not allow public school funding to be diverted to private school education. Funneling money to private schools will gut our already strained public school system. Diverting our tax dollars to fund private education will erode our public schools and hurt rural schools and communities the hardest. Our tax dollars are for public interest not private entities. Rural schools are the life blood of those communities and provide jobs for many occupations besides teaching. Cooks, janitors, secretaries, physical plant employees. The economic effect will be teacher turnover is already at the highest its ever been. Diverting these funds will lead to schools having to hire less qualified teachers. FAPE (Free and appropriate public education) is foundational to our society. Private schools do not have to accommodate for special needs students and can refuse their admittance. Vote NO! —Shana J.

 

As a public educator for over 30 years in Iowa, public schools educate everyone and we do so under state regulations due to the fact we are state funded. Private schools do not have to follow the same regulations, so they should not be receiving state funding. I feel that for years, politicians have been working to make it impossible for public schools to succeed. Public school funding has not kept pace with inflation and our schools are severely underfunded. This results in understaffing, cutting programs and not paying teachers and support staff fair wages. More guidelines are added all the time without funding or support needed.

A good example was the planning to return to learning after COVID shutdown. Schools scrambled like never before to plan how to resume teaching only to be told at the last minute, not good enough, change again! Political attacks on teachers, Sinister Teachers, has resulted in fewer people going into our teacher programs, especially quality applicants. We have a shortage of teachers and no substitutes, so the bar has been lowered for people to teach in the classroom. Now, open enrollment law has changed from a March 1 deadline to anytime, making it very difficult for schools to budget. I feel bad policies such as these are making it difficult for public schools to succeed and therefore politicians can say, “See, public schools don’t work.” —Renee B.

 

As a former teacher who left the profession due to lack of work/life balance and inadequate pay, I ask legislators to actually listen to your voters and fully fund public schools in Iowa. The local school districts are short staffed and the pay they are offering for support positions cannot support a person to live here anymore. I live in a rural area! The local gas station and McDonald’s pays more than the school does! Would you, personally, be willing to take on a job in an Iowa school that pays $10.12 an hour? Could you afford to house your family, pay for insurance, and feed you family on that?

It’s not only teachers who need better wages, but also our school support staff that makes it so our schools can actually function! Our IT, custodians, food services, and administrative staff deserve to be paid more as well! As a former teacher, having teachers have around 30 kids in class, it’s like herding cats. If the last time you’ve been in a school building was when you were attending classes I strongly recommend that you actually go and observe some classes in your rural school districts, because with as old as many of you are, you don’t know anything about education and schools. —Bethany M.

 

As a high school English teacher in Iowa public schools with 28 years of experience, I can attest that the strain of underfunding is hurting students by limiting programs and packing in classrooms. We have fallen from the best schools in the nation to number 24 according to U.S. News and World Report, and a big reason is inadequate funding since 2011. Many schools across the state have locked their libraries or have limited library hours because they couldn’t fund librarians. To help, English teachers purchased books with their own money to create classroom libraries, only to have state legislators like Sen. Jake Chapman attend board meetings and rally others to attack books offered in their classrooms that reflect the makeup of the diverse student body. It appears these attacks on funding, on libraries, and on teachers are all a plan to make public schools less valued by parents. But attacking public schools can only hurt Iowa and Iowans. When we lose public schools, we lose pride in our communities and property values go down. I hope that our elected leaders do what is best for Iowa by properly funding our schools with far more than the starvation diet 2.5 percent allowable growth that has become the norm over the past decade of Republican leadership. And please don’t take away public school funding to pay for students who already attend private schools. That would be like giving vouchers to parents for building their own backyard playgrounds instead of funding the public park. —JoAnn G.

 

As a public school teacher for 22 years I can assure you all that public schools are doing an amazing job. I don’t understand the rhetoric the Republicans have been pushing for the last year or so. Public schools are the foundation to communities in Iowa, large and small. I invite any of those on this committee to sit down and discuss. Additionally, I too have a son on the spectrum and the fact that we would give state dollars to a school that would not accept him is sickening. At the end of the day it seems the agenda is to not be accepting of differences. History proves this a far too dangerous approach. —Meghann P.

 

I am opposed to the school voucher bills. As a former employee of a private school, we also sent our two children to that private school through grade 6, I have seen first hand how vouchers could hurt students that don’t fit the mode of private schools. They do not always have the resources, teachers or materials to accommodate children with special or behavioral needs. Also, there are huge fundraisers and donors for scholarships so that students don’t have to pay the high tuition!! (We were one of those donors for a preschooler.) KEEP THE TAXPAYERS $$ IN OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS! If parents want a private education, great, but that is their financial responsibility!! —Kim M.

 

As a veteran educator of 20 years, a product of Iowa’s public schools, and mother of four currently in a public school, I feel that the goal of this state should be to continue to work to ensure that all children have access to great public schools. The proposed voucher plan will not help those who are currently in public schools as they will not cover the full cost of attendance at a private school. … private schools do not participate in the free and reduced lunch programs, which are vital to providing for many students. Also, private schools are not held to the same standards as public schools, nor do they have publicly elected oversight of a school board. How do we as taxpayers know that students are learning, and growing without this oversight? —Jill N.

 

As a younger teacher in a small school district, vouchers could be detrimental to our school and other school districts. It is important that we continue to fund students and not systems. In no other tax-funded entity are citizens/taxpayers allowed to opt out and use their tax funds elsewhere. (Law enforcement, fire department, hospitals, public health, municipal golf courses, etc.) Vouchers/ESAs remove funds from public schools that educate 92 percent (+/-) of Iowa students. For example, if a district lost one child per grade level to a nonpublic school their enrollment would decline by 13 students. This would cost loss of jobs for teachers and result in even larger class sizes.

Class sizes have continued to increase with increased responsibilities for us, making it even more challenging to provide students with the quality of education they deserve. 13 X $7,400 (state aid) = $96,200 reduction in funding for the district, while not reducing expenditures at all. This creates a negative impact on the rest of the students in that district. Public schools have continued to do more with less, year after year. Public schools have expanded course offerings, expanded the option for college credits, and expanded technical experience and work-based learning programs. —Randi K.

 

I’m writing to express my displeasure that vouchers are being considered in the state of Iowa. I’ve been a public school educator for 24 years, and I cannot believe this state is considering cutting even more funding from Iowa’s public schools with this dangerous plan. I teach at Lawton-Bronson High School. We are, according to the Iowa Department of Education, a high-performing school. Over 90 percent of my students are proficient in reading and writing. We do what is best for students all day every day.

We border a metropolitan area with access to several private schools. As it is right now, we take transfers from those private schools. I cannot express to you seriously enough how behind those students are who come to us from those schools. There is no oversight there, there is no yearly testing, and those schools are not held to the standard we are. Now, you want to give them our students and take money from us. It’s unbelievable to me that you are willing to sacrifice rural schools in Iowa with this program. When Sioux City loses 10 students, they barely notice it. When Lawton-Bronson loses 10 students (to a lower-performing school, mind you), we lose a teacher’s salary. This program will kill rural schools in Iowa. These schools are the touchstones for small-town life across this state. The ripple effect this dangerous program will have cannot be understated. You will effectively be hurting your own voters. Please reconsider supporting this bill. Your support of public education will not be forgotten. —Carrie R.

 

As a public teacher who came into the field the same year Iowa took away our collective bargaining I find this state’s government pressuring me more and more to find work in another state. People have a misconception that private schools pay teachers better. Private learning institutions are for-profit schools. The point is to make money for shareholders and top administration and executives. Teacher salary at these schools are typically much smaller and with less benefits. … Last year we saw hundreds of teachers leaving the profession because of low morale and unnecessary political pressure. I have been teaching at a public high school for almost 5 years now. I have made a significant impact on many students. If Iowa defunds public education I, and a lot of other teachers, will leave this state. —Andrew G.

 

As a university professor here in the state of Iowa, I have taught university engineering students who have been homeschooled and educated in religious K through 12 schools and I have been appalled at their lack of rigor in science and STEM fields. For example, many of these students are indoctrinated in the religious belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Of course this is absolutely, positively, and completely wrong, yet these students hold strongly to this incorrect belief. This public support of religious education will have the unintended, or, perhaps from the Republican perspective, intended consequence of severely reducing the STEM education of our students in Iowa. —Steve M.

 

As a younger teacher in a small school district, vouchers could be detrimental to our school and other school districts. It is important that we continue to fund students and not systems. In no other tax-funded entity are citizens/taxpayers allowed to opt out and use their tax funds elsewhere. (Law enforcement, fire department, hospitals, public health, municipal golf courses, etc.) Vouchers/ESAs remove funds from public schools that educate 92 percent (+/-) of Iowa students. For example, if a district lost one child per grade level to a nonpublic school their enrollment would decline by 13 students. This would cost loss of jobs for teachers and result in even larger class sizes.

Class sizes have continued to increase with increased responsibilities for us, making it even more challenging to provide students with the quality of education they deserve. 13 X $7,400 (state aid) = $96,200 reduction in funding for the district, while not reducing expenditures at all. This creates a negative impact on the rest of the students in that district. Public schools have continued to do more with less, year after year. Public schools have expanded course offerings, expanded the option for college credits, and expanded technical experience and work-based learning programs.

The governor and many representatives are inferring that children need to avoid public schools and go to elite private schools in order to get a good education. What they aren’t saying is that this is a way to reward those patrons who funded their campaigns. This is elitism in the extreme and a slap in the face for every public school teacher in Iowa who has worked tirelessly to provide the very best for their students. I should know: I am a 30+ year veteran of teaching in the elementary schools. —Rox-Anne C.

 

I find the governor’s statement “Soon no child’s potential will be limited” to be offensive. Having taught for 38 years, like my peers, I spent many afterschool, weekend and summer hours putting in time (and often our own funds) to find the best approach to every child I taught. I am curious as to how many public schools any of you [legislators] have visited … Have you really been in the trenches with public school personnel and talked to them about changes in education? … Why wouldn’t accountability be the same for public and private systems if both are receiving public funds? Have you thought about school hopping? Because that will happen. Will the funds from the vouchers be transferred when parents switch their students back and forth? Will ALL students be accepted in the private schools? Public funding should require acceptance for all students. Vote NO! —Lisa R.

 

Administrators and officials

I have served as a public school educator in Iowa for 36 years, the last 25 as an elementary school principal. Never has the need for legislative support for public education been greater than it is now. The proposed voucher plan will absolutely reduce funding for our public schools. This will NOT improve our educational system in Iowa. Instead, put the time and effort into working with actual educators to implement the best school improvement efforts supported by research. I’ll be the first in line to help. Call me. —Jim Gilbert

 

Good afternoon. My name is Amy Hawkins and I’m proud to be superintendent of the Dubuque Community School District. Today, in our district: an ELL teacher supported student learning of a student whose primary language is Marshallese, a student with a perfect score on the ACT exam is challenged further by taking college level courses, a school counselor helped a student with an identified need for behavior support self-regulate, a young elementary student experienced coding for the first time, a student with autism received the learning support they need to live a rewarding life, a student is finishing their preparation to become a diesel mechanic, and I could go on. My point in sharing these is that as a public school district, we proudly serve each and every student who walks through our door students of all abilities, with all backgrounds and work to empower them with the skills needed to live a rewarding life. We do this with transparency and accountability for how we utilize public funds.

With the proposed voucher program, these same expectations do not exist for private entities. They will receive funds with no expectation for serving each student and instead have the option, for whatever reason they choose, to deny a student services. In my career as an educator, I spent many years as a coach and athletic director in addition to teaching. When our student-athletes compete, we work to ensure that the competition is fair and teams work their hardest to achieve new levels of success while all playing by the same set of rules. As presented, the voucher program on the table goes against the very principles of true competition. Instead, it creates a playing field that has the teams (in this case, school systems) playing by different rules: one set that requires embracing every student, full accountability and transparency, and another that allows students to be turned away and without expectations for clear transparency and accountability for how public funds are used. Instead of moving forward with a costly voucher program, we encourage you to place your priorities in fully funding the public school systems that are at the very foundation of our states success. —Amy Hawkins

 

As a former member and president of my local school board, I know firsthand that this legislation will harm public schools. Community schools have struggled for years as appropriations from the State of Iowa have not kept up with the increased costs that the public schools face. This legislation will only add to their struggles. Rural districts, which are the majority of districts in Iowa, will be impacted the most. Every dollar is important to them. They need more funding, not less, to provide a world class education for our youth. A world class education is what the State of Iowa used to provide, but not anymore, due to past funding shortfalls. This bill will only make things worse. I strongly urge you to oppose this bill, for the sake of the vast majority of students in this state. Thank you. —Steven Inskeep

 

As a taxpayer, school board member and spouse of a public education teacher, I am writing to urge our local leaders to keep public dollars for public schools. By underfunding our schools, you are underfunding the opportunity for thousands of Iowan youth to reach their full potential. You are underfunding businesses who want to recruit and retain some of the best minds in their respective areas. You are underfunding our [ability] to remain a leader that other states look at as a guiding example for public education. By saying this program is offering school choice is misleading. There will be hundreds of kids turned away from schools due to disabilities or behavioral issues. Public schools accept every child where they are and not turn them away. Instead of vouchers, please consider funding public schools so that they can provide additional supports to those who need it. Mental health counseling and a free lunch program are two things that would go a long way for so many of our Iowa families. Please don’t continue to create a us vs them situation by underfunding public education. —Ruthina Malone

 

As retired Board president of Ames Community School District, I voice strong opposition to this bill and to any attempts to divert public funds toward private education. K12 schooling in Iowa is showing the stresses of continued underfunding. Thirty years ago, we consistently ranked in the top five states in educational performance according to NAEP data. We have declined to the middle of the states since then. Any proposals to divert public education dollars to private schooling will exacerbate these trends, causing long term losses of opportunity for our children and the businesses that will hire them. Loss of public school funds will also burden rural Iowa towns with further contraction and economic challenges. Iowa’s communitarian culture has strongly supported public education since prior to statehood. Any attempts to diminish that will harm our children, our communities and our economic prospects. —Stephen Ringlee

 

My father Maurice Baringer was influential in the establishment of the Iowa Community College System when he was a Republican legislator and later state treasurer. He passed away in 2011 and I would not presume to speak for him on most things, but I will say that he would not support these current attempts to divert funds from public schools to private schools. The proposal for private school vouchers will divert resources to schools that will not be required to serve students with special needs, provide transportation to students, hire Iowa-certified teachers, perform background checks on all staff, or report student performance statistics. These should NOT be confused with charter schools. They will not be subject to Iowa public records requirements. Such schools serve boutique niche markets, not the public, and should be funded by their patrons, not by tax money.

Iowa once led the country in the quality of public education. It has fallen behind because funding has not kept up with the needs of current students and teachers. Teachers have already been leaving the state due to attacks on their professionalism and salaries that are not competitive with salaries elsewhere. Iowa’s current Republican leadership is going in the wrong direction with public education. —Sandra Baringer

 

As a 9-year local public school board member and IASB director I know intimately the difficulties public schools face today with limited resources and expanded expectations. Taking money away from public schools will only accelerate the problems and create a chasm in our state. Separation of public and parochial schools insures that every child, despite economic status, has access to a diverse educational environment meeting the needs such as disability, gender and ethnicity. If public schools are not performing adequately then its the states responsibility to provide the resources to improve performance and not just allow the segregation provided by private entities. Iowa used to be first in the nation under Robert Ray and now 27th under current leadership. Should we lay the blame solely on schools? Please rethink this destructive plan and return to improving public education. —John Evans

 

Other voices

I’m a retiree on IPERS and SS. I feel I deserve to choose where my tax contribution go. And I chose Ankeny PS. I really don’t appreciate the state telling me where my tax dollars should go, under the governor’s plan and her out of state followers. Shame Shame shame. My dollars, my choice. Not the governor. —Donna M.

 

It is painfully obvious that the citizens of the state of Iowa do not want their public dollars going to private schools. Our state has a great history of public education and this attempt to subvert it is shameful at best and criminal at worst. … Will you all be ready to stand accountable for the number of rural districts that stand to close? Is that the legacy you want to leave in your district? Are you really gaining so much personally that your long-term legacy will be, the person that caused the greatest number of district closings since the 1950s? Walk away from this awful bill with your dignity and your love and pride in the state of Iowa intact. —Jason L.

 

As someone who was educated in Iowa, at both a Catholic grade school and a public middle-high school I know the value of both private and public education. I also know that the Catholic school wasn’t required to make full accommodations for fellow classmates with special needs like the public schools I attended later did. If we are going to give parents the school choice they all want, with financial backing from the state, then change Section 504 to match the public school requirements. A parent with special needs child shouldn’t have to choose between a public school and a private school because God made their child differently. —Eric O.

 

This plan is so bad Reynolds had to primary members of her own party because even they could admit that taking money away from already underfunded public schools is simply a bad idea. —Kristin L.

 

I live in rural Iowa. Like many of us still living and working in rural Iowa, the only option for schools are public schools. Private schools arent in small rural communities, this bill does nothing for the thousands of Iowa public school students whose only local option is public school. As I see it, this bill will only give wealthy Iowans in urban/suburban areas a taxpayer funded break on tuition for their kids to attend private schools on my tax dollars. No, that is not acceptable. —Jennifer T.

 

It turns out that only 53% of Iowa students receive three years of high school math aligned with the Iowa Core. I have recently completed an analysis by district size that highlights the needs of small school districts and large urban districts in terms of math instruction. This will be published soon. Midsized schools seems to be faring alright, but the majority of our students’ learning outcomes are not stellar. The idea that “choice” will somehow improve schools when we already have local control is ridiculous. I have been in urban schools where all Algebra and Geometry classes have 30+ students with one teacher and no other supports. The underfunding of schools is an embarrassment, and we are harming children and robbing them of their future. I challenge anyone in our government to actually go into an urban school, like North in DM, and sit in a math classroom for a few hours. It is pretty obvious that we are starving our schools. Our students and teachers need and deserve real solutions. —Maryann H.

 

Living in rural Iowa I have attended several school board meetings. One instance they invited a legislator to talk about this voucher proposal. It broke my heart to hear the board members tell the legislator how difficult it was right now to meet budgets. They went into deep detail the areas where they had to cut and how if vouchers became part of the deal, what they would have to continue to cut or worse, remove. And all this legislator could say was “you are doing a great job”; in other words, I care less what happens to this school district as long as I do what the Governor tells me to do. Listen up legislators. Rural Iowa cannot afford this Voucher/School Choice proposition. —Tammy G.

 

Governor Reynolds, in her State of the State Address, stated that her agenda for this session was child centered. I disagree. Her plan for a voucher system to divert public tax dollars to private schools is the opposite of child friendly and begs elitism. Instead of school access for all it results in a form of segregation all too reminiscent of our past. I realize that individual students have individual needs but let’s not segregate them into a hierarchical system that promotes differences instead of understanding, empathy, compassion and positive inquisitive learning. Our Public Schools are for everyone. Let’s fully fund them and allow them the means to respond to student’s special needs. Let’s make our Public School System the CHILDREN’S School of Choice. —Barbara G.

 

Asking for vouchers is asking for fractured communities. Its asking for a wider gap between the Haves and the Have-Nots. A voucher system will not level the playing field nor will it encourage healthy/legitimate competition. Because as many people have already explained, private schools get to play by a different set of rules and get to cherry pick the students they want to admit. And no matter how the funds are divided (whether some of the per pupil funds stay with the public schools or all of it follows the student to the private), we cannot create two separate systems and fund them both adequately. Its just not possible. Unlike many other states that have considered vouchers, we have a strong education system. Lets not ruin it. Rather than give up on the public schools and create a new, unequal, system, stick around and do the hard work. There is more that unites us than divides us, we just have to have the will, patience, and communication skills to work together. —Julie M.

 

Our governor and legislators are elected to work for the people. The majority of Iowans have repeatedly said they want strong public education. Instead they’ve gotten underfunded schools, attacks on public school educators, micromanagement of what and how to teach and numerous schemes to divert tax dollars and students from public schools. Our public schools are not failing, elected officials are failing them. This scheme to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars in additional subsidies to private education, on top of the current $50+ million annual support in direct payments, reimbursements and tax credits for nonpublic education, is totally unacceptable. … The new Archdiocese of Des Moines’ (71 schools) policies institutionalizing discrimination toward students and staff based on gender identification, which other Catholic school systems may choose to adopt, are a perfect example of why tax dollars should not go to private schools. —Maureen W.

 

Our founding fathers declared a separation of Church and state. As a Christian who respects the constitution, I am concerned that taking public tax dollars out of public schools and putting them into private, religious schools goes against an important principle that our state and country were founded on. —Chris S.

 

I voted for many Republicans. We entrusted you elected leaders to represent your constituents. It is disappointing that our representatives are even considering this again! We already said NO! Public dollars belong in public schools. This will hurt all rural schools in Iowa! Please let this go! —Sarah H.

 

Two points: 1) economic inequality stems from, and exacerbates, inequality in education. If you really want Iowa to return to its former status as a producer of educated citizens, the obvious action to take is to increase funding to the public schools. 2) If one dime of my money, via the state tax system, winds up contributing to a religious school, Iowa is in violation of the Establishment Clause.Darren R.

 

I don’t drive on that road; my tax dollars should follow the roads I drive on. I don’t use that fire/police/paramedic resource; my dollars should go to what I use…. Does that sound shortsighted and not take anything about having a basic, functioning society into account? Yep. And the comments saying your tax dollars should follow students to what YOU choose are the same. Keep public dollars in public programs. —Chelsey K.

 

The bill will not lead to stronger public schools by creating competition. Private schools are not required to accept all students, provide transportation, or adhere to most of the requirements of public schools codified in state law. How can public schools compete when the rules only apply to them? They can’t. It creates a predetermined win/lose outcome in favor of private schools. —Chris L.

 

We are the best state in the USA because we make sound, conservative decisions based on research and ensure we have plans in place to succeed (this is quite different than the process other states or federal government employ). This bill is way too rushed and does not provide nearly the amount of accountability or equity that is the basis of the success of our legislation. There is no way that our legislators can digest nearly 2,500 pages of legislation and be expected to debate and vote on a bill in a matter of days or weeks. Before a vote happens, the legislators needs to be transparent on the cost of this bill (including future ramifications) and how its expecting to fund it moving forward. The bill will require over $300 million in funding annually ($106 million next year) with no provisions for equitable admittance or accountability. This bill is fiscally irresponsible and as a Republican, I wonder how this is any different than the federal college loan repayment plan we are fighting. Both are a choice and both are for educational opportunities that are not required. This bill will hurt rural districts and urban neighborhood schools first. —Brent H.

 

When my hometown school consolidated, local businesses suffered because school activities were no longer held there. Instead, a somewhat newer school in an unincorporated town without fire protection or a municipal water supply was selected as the site for the high school. The new location did not add businesses but the other two incorporated communities’ businesses suffered. If rural businesses suffer, they reduce staff, cut operating hours, and eliminate expansion or update plans. Too many rural Iowa counties have lost businesses and population over the last two decades. Only Iowa lawmakers can make the necessary changes to prevent diminishing rural economies even further.

Before retiring from economic development, I encouraged lawmakers to offer enticements to both businesses that hired recent Iowa graduates, as well as, recent Iowa graduates who stayed instate to work. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Economic developers have long touted Iowa’s public schools as an asset to attract businesses and recruit young professionals who were raised in the state to come home. Why bother, these young professionals say. We can make more money to support our growing families elsewhere where there are more opportunities, recreation, and activities. Iowa must invest in public education to give our young people a good start. An investment in public education along with protecting our environment to improve outdoor recreation will serve our little people and parents who seek opportunities and reasons to return to Iowa. If this doesn’t happen, Iowa will need to find another symbol other than a schoolhouse for the state quarter. —Linda S.

 

We are a century farm family living in a rural school district. We are vehemently opposed to the plan for state funding of private school tuition, especially with no income limits. This amounts to nothing more than paying back the governors rich donors at the expense of small school districts. The governors dirty politics during the primaries cost us a fantastic legislator whose only issue was a lack of sipper for this pathetic proposal. We will not vote for the governor or any legislator who supports this program. —Jenny K.


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