Johnston School Board Joins Anti-Voucher Push, but not Without Debate

Add Johnston to the growing list of Iowa school boards that have passed resolutions opposing school vouchers and similar legislation that redirects public funds to private schools.

The Johnston Community School District School Board approved its resolution in a 4-2 vote Monday. The opposing votes came from board members Clint Evans and Derek Tidball while Deb Davis abstained. Those three new conservative members also made national headlines when they signed the 1776 Pledge.

Johnston’s resolution says, “the Iowa Legislature should not enact any type of voucher legislation of any kind, for any student, and should continue to promote and fully invest taxpayer resources in Iowa’s public schools, who are barred by law from discriminating against any student and who are held to standards set forth by both federal and state government.”

The resolution also states:

  • Public schools are provided oversight by locally elected school boards and by the state of Iowa.
  • Public schools must adhere to strict state testing requirements and ensure equitable access and outcomes for each learner regardless of income, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or disability.
  • Nonpublic schools are not held to the same public accountability standards.
  • Iowa taxpayers deserve to know how their public funds are being used.
  • School choice already exists in Iowa in the form of open enrollment, enrollment in private online institutions, and tuition tax credits.

There was a 45-minutes discussion before the vote. The board members who opposed the resolution or voted to abstain shared a few reasons why they weren’t fans of it.

Evans said while he does not support vouchers, he welcomed the competition they could offer. School competition is one of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ talking points in supporting the measure. 

“We are a destination school district and I’m proof of that because I moved here just to be part of this school district,” Evans said.

Davis, who remained neutral on education savings accounts, questioned the purpose of the resolution. She also clarified she attended a recent Iowans for Tax Relief event to learn more about education savings accounts and that she did not speak at the event but introduced one of the speakers.

Iowans for Tax Relief, which has statehouse lobbyists, has registered its support for every school voucher/scholarship bill introduced during this year’s legislative session. It also has a section on its website dedicated to the issue.

“I am a conservative. I introduce speakers at conservative events,” Davis said. “Conservatives are allowed to be on school boards, not just liberals.”

Tidball questioned why the board should offer a collective statement on this piece of legislation when there were more than 50 education bills introduced during the legislative session. He blamed the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) for asking districts to get involved with the bill.

“It sets a poor precedent for the Association of School Boards to ask, in this one particular case, to ask for public comment,” Tidball.

Tidball also asked why the board wasn’t saying anything about HF 2416, which bars trans girls and trans women from competing in athletic events at the K-12 or college level designated for females, girls, or women.

“I’d like to get some of you on the record about boys playing girls’ sports,” Tidball said. “I’d love to do some of these other bills that have come through because it would really help me out in the [next] election.”

Later in the meeting, Johnston superintendent Laura Kacer clarified that the resolution wasn’t added because of influence from the IASB. 

“I’m hired by the school board to be the superintendent of Johnston Community School District, which means we are a taxpayer-funded organization,” Kacer said. “If I sat here and I didn’t fight for every single dime and nickel and penny for the students in Johnston and Urbandale and Des Moines—everybody that’s in the Johnston School District—you could accuse me of mismanagement. I would not be doing my job.”    

Board president Katie Fiala noted she added the resolution to the agenda on Friday. She said she received no comment from anyone on the board leading up to the meeting. Davis said she was not aware of the resolution until she saw something on social media.

Fiala also said it wasn’t difficult for her to vote in favor of the resolution.

“I’m the director of a board of education of a public school and public dollars belong with public schools” she said. “This resolution is also not new; we passed the exact same one last year as a district.”

During the meeting, Tidball also said he told Rep. Eddie Andrews (R-Johnston) he thought the state only providing 2.5% in supplemental funding was “disgusting,” but he also said he didn’t think the district would lose money if educational scholarships were approved.

“You just sat here and said, ‘We need the funding, we need the funding, we need the funding,’ but, yet, we’re going to sign over vouchers for kids to leave the district and the money to go with them because we don’t need that funding,” said board member Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher.

“The school district needs that funding. I pay property taxes here. I want my property taxes to fund public education. That’s why I sit on a public education school board and I would like those dollars to stay here and not go to Stanton, Iowa, not go to a private school.”

 

by Ty Rushing
02/22/22

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