Public education paid by public funds became a reality with Iowa’s 1846 statehood. But despite 65 percent of Iowans not wanting K-12 private education to be supported by public funds, according to a Selzer and Co. Iowa Poll, our lawmakers have recently allocated $52 million to subsidize 52,000 privately educated students.
Not only did the Republican-controlled Legislature want to increase the private education funding by nearly five-fold to $240 million (HF 9 & SF 29; School Choice), they are attempting to jam SSB 3206 (Education Savings Account) down the public’s throat, which would permit a $4,000 voucher per public education-schooled child to attend private school.
Around 90 percent of Iowa’s 241 private schools have a religious mission statement. Separation of church and state contends no public funds should be diverted to non-public private education; both GOP private education initiatives may be unconstitutional.
Where would money come from to support either School Choice or Education Savings Account? Public education.
Don’t be hoodwinked when Republicans claim their pro-private education bills are “revenue neutral.” Money doesn’t grow on trees. If passed, resources will, guaranteed, be siphoned away from public-education appropriations and given to private-education providers.
Both bills would especially harm rural communities and place a significant financial burden on all school districts. With these two bills and the GOP’s history of underfunding public education, it can only be surmised “Smaller-Smarter” Republicans despise public education.
There’s another reason behind the GOP’s anti-public education chicanery behavior. Citizens need to know the source of GOP-suggested Education Savings Account, voucher programs, home schooling, and school-choice policies, which also help their campaign coffers: Americans for Prosperity ($82 million; funded by Koch brothers), School Policy Network ($8 million Virginia group), American Legislative Exchange Council ($7 million funds), Heartland Institute ($5 million budget), and EdChoice ($5 million Indianapolis-based school-choice education organization). Follow the money.
When Republicans can provide statistically significant evidence Education Savings Accounts and School Choice will not take one dime away from Iowa’s 333 public education school districts and improved educational outcomes are guaranteed, then Iowans will listen. This request of the GOP will not be forthcoming. The Brookings Institution, a century-old American education-focused research group, has found the idea that private education is superior to public education is a myth.
Iowans need a dose of reality. If 100 students from your public school each took $4,000 to be educated elsewhere, could your school survive with $400,000 less state funding? Imagine what School Choice and/or Education Savings Accounts will do to your town’s small businesses, economic-development plans, neighborhood, property taxes, and way of life when state-funded non-public schools sabotage your public school.
Since the 2010 Tea Party takeover, the conservative Republicans have become radical. If we can’t afford to do better than a 1 percent increase for K-12 public education, which is below inflation and the cost of living, how can we possibly justify subsidizing non-public schools?
If legislators represent their constituents and not their party and/or out-of-state special-interest groups such as EdChoice, School Policy Network, ALEC, Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and the Koch brothers, they will defeat SSB 3206, HF 9 and SF 29.
Nov. 6 will be a voting opportunity to hold legislators accountable for their blatant anti-public-education actions.
— Steve Corbin
professor emeritus of marketing
University of Northern Iowa