Last week, Republican State Senator Mark Chelgren introduced Senate File 2091, a bill that creates Education Savings Grants that would be available to students who are attending non-public schools or who are homeschooling. Much of the rationale for vouchers comes from the parents who are paying taxes that go to public schools, but do not benefit from those taxes, because they utilize nonpublic education.
First, one needs to understand that over $50 million in tax dollars already supports private schooling and home schooling in Iowa. Here is a breakdown of the use of those dollars: nonpublic textbooks ($650,000), nonpublic transportation ($8,500,000), school tuition tax credits ($11,300,000), tuition and textbook tax credits ($15,200,000), home school assistance support ($2,000,000), nonpublic students using public opportunities ($1,600,000) and community partner preschool ($13,000,000).
Second, parents have many educational options in Iowa today. Iowa offers open enrollment to other public school districts or to a virtual public school. There are two kinds of homeschooling: competent private instruction and independent private instruction. There are also viable private school systems in the state.
Third, will the same accountability for public school funding be expected for private and homeschooling parents? Currently, private and homeschooling advocates have lobbied hard for limited or no government regulation. If they are receiving public funding, I believe private and homeschooling options must have the same government expectations and accountability concerning curriculum, student achievement, and the acceptance of ALL students.
This bill will be heavily debated during this legislative session. My stance is that competition in schools is good and makes us strive to be better. However, public schools need to compete on the same playing field. Therefore the same accountability and educational assurances every public school district in Iowa is required to have should be the same for private or homeschooling options that are receiving government vouchers.
Our local representatives are: