Funding our Futures: Voucher bill would undermine effectiveness of public schools

Every K-12 student in Iowa is worth about $6,500 in state money. This is how much the state of Iowa spends in public tax funds to support each child’s education at a public school. Now, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led state legislature want to enable families to use that money to pay for attending private schools or to fund home schooling.

It was at the school choice rally in Des Moines in 2017 that the Iowa Republicans brought the idea of a program to create education saving grants or education vouchers to help students pay tuition to go to private schools or to fund homeschool education. The big question for debate in Iowa’s government is: should Iowa’s public tax money pay for non-public education? The fact that tax money is going somewhere nonpublic seems unfair, but Gov. Kim Reynolds thinks it is acceptable, saying it is “not unreasonable.”

Former Iowa Gov. Branstad, Reynolds’ predecessor, made his opinion clear on this issue in at the school choice rally in 2017. “We want to make sure all those choices are available, and are as affordable as possible,” he said.

On the opposing side, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, is against the Republican-backed legislation. “I think that if you go to a system of vouchers, what you will be doing is bleeding both kids and dollars out of rural schools,” he said.

A report by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education published in January 2006 found that students in public schools are more successful than private or charter schools. This study is a hard jab to the pro-voucher presumption that private schools are superior to public schools. If public schools lose their students, they will also be losing money. Every student is part of the community that makes public education better.

Spending public money on private education also breaks down the line between church and state, as private religious schools or homes teaching religion means public financial support is used in service of religion. Even Thomas Jefferson in 1802 clearly warned against public spending for religious purposes: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

The association of tax money from the people of Iowa and religious schools is unconstitutional. Moreover, educational vouchers, giving public tax dollars to private schools, harms one of the most important institutions of our communities: our public schools.

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