Kumar: Public funds should mean public programs


When the Polk County Board of Supervisors gave away $844,000 in public funds to private religious schools, the officials misused their elected positions.

Michelle Kumar


The Polk County Board of Supervisors made a mistake when it decided to give private religious schools public money in 2012-13. The Des Moines Register rightly broke the news on June 18, and the paper was not misinformed in its perspective that it was wrong, as the supervisors are now claiming. The $844,000 in public money deserved to go to underfunded public schools in Polk County, not privately funded religious schools. Imagine the programs that could have been funded and the deserving students who could have been served with the grants that were legally allotted for them.

It’s not that students who go to private school don’t deserve funding, it’s that they have other avenues and streams of funding. Their parents make the choice to send them to private institutions, most of the time because they want their children to have a religious education or don’t like the public schools offered to their children. Public funds are meant for public programs. There are specific reasons laws are on the books at both the state and federal level. These policies specifically stipulate that public funds are not allowed to be directly given to private religious schools.

So instead of giving the schools the money directly, the supervisors found a backdoor loophole. The money was given indirectly to the schools with a shady middleman corporation. The corporation had lost its tax-exempt status because it did not correctly disclose to the IRS. For some reason, the state auditor refuses to audit the situation.

In the supervisors’ statement to the Des Moines Register, they said “​… the board acknowledged that under state law and its own policies, it could not directly give money to religious-affiliated groups such as schools. This was problematic for all of the supervisors, many of whom felt the regulations were discriminatory against parochial students and parents.”

But as an elected official, you do not just represent Catholic constituents. Elected officials are not meant to find a backdoor to do what’s right for people they like. They are elected to do what is right for every Iowan they represent.

The supervisors said, “The spirit of state law prohibiting government funding to religious entities is to avoid using public funds to promote or advance religious ideas. We agree with this ethic. However, we also wanted to help our taxpaying constituents using the parochial elementary schools with a much-needed technology upgrade.”

The supervisors contended that the private schools needed new technology and security. They neglected to remember that the public schools need those vital upgrades, too. We as citizens decided education was an important service the government should provide the people. We decided to be a literate society and to make sure education is a right, not a privilege. That is why our taxes go to public schools.

Our education system needs fixing, of course. This is exactly why public schools needed the money. Polk County hosts many of the top public schools in the state, and in order for that excellent education to continue, $844,000 cannot be funneled through a backdoor to private religious schools.

In light of the supervisors’ actions, it is in the best interest of the Polk County residents that the supervisors step down or at the very least, not run in the fall election.

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