The Iowa Senate Education Committee passed Senate Study Bill 3080 on Thursday, which would provide funds from public schools for students to enroll in private schools.
It passed with four Democrats voting against it—Sens. Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), Claire Celsi (D-Des Moines), Jackie Smith (D-Sioux City), and Sarah Trone Garriott (D-Windsor Heights).
The bill would create “student-first scholarships,” a variant of a school voucher program. The program would place money into education savings accounts (ESAs) to help families pay for private school, rather than directing the money to the public school system.
“This bill will take money out of taxpayer coffers and give it to private schools who have no accountability and not the same standards as public schools,” Celsi said during discussion before the vote. “This is a breach of trust. Iowa taxpayers want their money to go to the public schools. That is the absolute bottom line.”
Celsi said she’s heard from hundreds of constituents who are opposed to the bill and don’t understand why the legislature is pursuing it.
The main argument in favor of the bill, according to Sen. Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), is to enhance parents’ ability to make choices about their child’s education.
“The why of moving this bill is that we’ve seen that parents desire to be more engaged and more in control of making the choices surrounding their child’s education and when you don’t have the means to make those choices it makes it much more difficult to choose something other than the status quo,” she said.
Sinclair also said this version of the bill is only a vehicle to start the conversation. Amendments and further discussion will shape it into what Republicans would actually like to make law.
“While the details of this bill will be changing, the merits of parental choice and involvement and engagement and driving their students’ lives and education is the underlying why and I would move Senate Study Bill 3080,” she said.
Quirmbach gave several reasons why he couldn’t support the legislation. He said most private schools are organized around a religion, and also noted the bill wouldn’t actually expand opportunities for low-income students because there are additional costs to attend private schools.
“When you siphon off, as the governor has proposed, 30% of the dollars, the kid is only taking 70% of the dollars with them, those kids are gonna still have to pay tuition to cover the full cost at the private schools,” he said. “And that means that kids from low-income backgrounds really aren’t going to get additional choices here.”
The way the money will come from public schools will also introduce new disparities, he said.
“In rural areas, you bleed kids and dollars out of schools, what you’re doing is accelerating the date at which those schools consolidate,” Quirmbach said. “Now I understand the governor has proposed to kick back some of the money to rural schools, but what you wind up doing is taking dollars out of urban schools and giving them to rural schools. You’re dividing one set of schools against another and that is very much counterproductive to the advance of education in this state.”
by Nikoel Hytrek
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.