SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — Governor Reynolds’ “Student First” scholarship program was passed by the Senate in March, but the Republican-held legislature is still waiting for enough votes in the house to make school choice law.
If signed into law, up to 5,000 students and 5,000 with individual learning plans would have access to state funding for their education, allowing parents to choose any school they want their kids enrolled in, including private schools. The value of that family’s property tax — an average of $5,000 — would essentially follow the student to whichever institute they select.
Dan Barkel is the superintendent of Marcus-Meridan-Cleghorn-Remsen Union and explained the issue rural public school districts like his would run into if this program is implemented, especially with Remsen-Saint Mary’s right down the road.
“How can I compete when I have all these laws that I need to follow and then I have a private school on our doorstep that doesn’t have to follow any of these laws? To me, it’s an unfair regulatory advantage that private schools would have over us,” said Barkel.
Senator Jim Carlin said he’s heard about five to 15 House Republicans are against the voucher program as well as the minority Democrats, and that’s the main reason behind a delayed end to the 89th General Assembly. He claims public schools are teaching sexually explicit material as well as banned Critical Race Theory teachings which is why he’s in support of student choice.
“Parents don’t want that and they really, they don’t have any say in it and if it doesn’t align with what their beliefs are, they think it’s wholly inappropriate for their kids to be presented with that and they want a choice,” said Carlin.
Barkel said for a rural district like MMCRU, the loss of just six kids would create a huge impact on the school’s finances.
“If I lose that many kids, then I have to start looking at cutting a teacher and then pretty soon when I start cutting teachers, I have to start cutting programs and eventually it has a snowball effect for our setting so to me there’s a great danger,” said Barkel.
Bishop Heelan president, Dr. John Flanery said that the savings accounts are about more than just school just but that they’re about social justice.
“Education savings accounts are about more than school choice; they are about social justice,” said Flanery. “This will not hurt public schools and teachers. This will enable a single parent working two jobs the opportunity to explore other educational options for his or her children. This is about kids, not adults. Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools fully support ESAs in Iowa as a chance for families to consider the best education that meets the needs of their children.”
Carlin says once a compromise over the student vouchers is found, he believes issues like the budget provisions will get squared away fairly quickly, allowing the legislative session to end.