By Jason Estrada
Although a statewide survey revealed that a majority of Iowans supports school choice, Iowa City might have a different opinion on the topic.
School choice allows families to select what school to send their children to without being limited by the district in which they live.
According to the Braun Research Inc. Poll, 70 percent of Iowans support both school choice and the creation of Education Savings Accounts, including tutoring, private school tuition, therapies for specials needs, or a specific combination.
Additionally, Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of Education, has traveled to states such as Florida to advocate for school-choice programs, according to Sunshine State News.
However, Iowa City School Superintendent Stephen Murley said he does not support the use of school-choice programs, especially school vouchers.
Murley said the beneficiaries of vouchers for private and charter schools do not require them to follow state or federal law. The schools are not required to provide services for English Language learners or for special-education students and test their students on an annual basis to determine their skill levels and progress
“The real losers with school choice are the children,” he said. “Vouchers will provide a way to funnel money to the 30,000-plus private school students in the state at the expenses of the public school children. The legislation may be written such that it also allows the money to flow to home-school students, too, further eroding support for public education.”
Ed Failor, the director of state engagement at EdChoice, said school choice will provide students with public-education funds for school services that will satisfy their parents’ needs for the best learning environment. Additionally, he said, school choice allows students to choose among a public, private, or a charter school.
EdChoice is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates for parents’ freedom to choose for the best learning environment.
Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education is a group in Iowa that supports school choice, and its executive director, Trish Wilger, said the organization has been around 11 years and started when there weren’t any other groups advocating for choice from parents’ perspective
“That’s how it kind of generated, [we were] looking for ways to remove barriers especially for lower-income families to be able to choose non-public education if that’s something they wanted to do for their child,” she said.
Additionally, she said, there are different types of school-choice programs, including tax-credit scholarships, vouchers, education savings accounts, and individual tax credits.
Iowa currently provides the individual tax credit and the School Tuition Organization Tax-Credit program, but the Iowa schoolchoice advocates are discussing a proposal this year for adding the education savings accounts, Wilger said.
According to the Iowa Alliance For Choice In Education, 10,000 students receive a grant from the School Tuition Organization Tax-Credit program in every year, allowing low to lower- middle income families to afford their school choice.
The individual tax-credit offset expenses for both public and private education by giving parents a tax credit, which is up to 25 percent of the first $1,000 for students.
Failor said school choice has always been an important topic of discussion because parents desire the best learning options for their children.
“State-education dollars follow the child to the school of his or her choosing,” he said. “School choice empowers parents to make the best educational decision for their children, often times a decision that could not have been made if the money did not follow the child.”
Failor also said there are no disadvantages of school choice for parents and children.
“School-choice programs such as Education Savings Accounts give parents options to seek schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized teacher attention and offers parents the opportunity to access schools with curricula that better fit their needs, such as high-level science, technology, engineering, and math,” he said.