I had a history professor in college who always warned, “You’re comparing apples and bowling balls.” That’s what private school voucher advocates are doing when they compare private to public schools. Both play a role in educating students, but they are very different, and it’s an apple and bowling ball comparison.
Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed a new entitlement program for Iowa private schools. Here’s how her voucher proposal would work.
Two groups of students would be eligible to receive a voucher. Those qualifying include students whose family income is less than or equal to 400% of the Iowa poverty guidelines, and students with individual Education Improvement Plans (IEP’s).
Under this plan, the number of students receiving vouchers is capped at 10,000 and the voucher amount would be 70% or $5,359 of the current public-school cost per pupil of $7,629. If all 10.00 vouchers were used, the public schools will lose $53,590,000.
To appease rural lawmakers into passing her plan, there’s another part to this bill. The remaining 30% or $2,270 of the cost per pupil goes to small schools of 500 students or less. So, schools with enrollment over 500, like, Sioux City Community Schools, could lose twice.
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The funding should follow the student. Having fewer students in a public school doesn’t automatically mean costs goes down. There are still students who need lights, heat, teachers, supplies, transportation, etc. Most of the students will remain in public schools. They shouldn’t be shortchanged because some students choose a private school.
Private schools and public schools should compete because competition is healthy. Competition is healthy, but not when the playing field is tilted in favor of one competitor. Public schools have no control over the raw material they get. All students are accepted. Private schools may accept or reject any student based on private criteria. That’s what private means.
If after accepting a student, a private school finds, because of discipline or disability, the student doesn’t fit, a school may choose to permanently remove a student. The only alternatives for those parents are to find another private school miles away, home school, or enroll the student in public school.
Public schools must provide educational opportunities for all students, even those with discipline problems or disabilities,
Vouchers will assure parents of children with disabilities and those at or below the poverty line have school choice. Currently the average tuition in Iowa for a private high school is $9,033.
Under the Reynolds plan, the voucher amount is $5,349. Private schools accepting vouchers will not be required to cap their tuition at $5,349. Private schools will also not be required to accept special education students.
Private schools will be available in rural Iowa. When the bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Private schools need to go where the students are. That means the urban and suburban areas. Rural Iowa could become education deserts with an underfunded public school and no private school within driving distance.
Private schools serve a distinct purpose. They are private primarily for two reasons. They don’t want to be tied down by government regulations, and parents want their religious values reenforced at school.
There’s nothing wrong with those ideas, if the schools aren’t financed with public dollars robed from the underfunded public schools. Iowa doesn’t need a new private school entitlement program that will never end and will continue to grow.
Bruce Lear, of Sioux City, has been connected to public schools for 38 years. He taught for 11 years and represented educators as an Iowa State Education Association regional director for 27 years until retiring.