Future Of Iowa’s Public Schools On The Ballot Tuesday, Advocates Warn

Photo by Branislav Novak / EyeEm

Iowa parents and educators rallied around the state Wednesday to encourage people to support public schools with their vote on Tuesday.

Progress Iowa hosted a series of press conferences that featured parents and educators to remind everyone that Iowa Republicans will continue pushing for private school vouchers in the upcoming legislative session.

The voucher program proposed this year would have diverted $55 million from public school budgets for up to 10,000 scholarships to pay for students to attend private schools.

It failed in the Iowa Legislature this spring, but Gov. Kim Reynolds has made it no secret she’s going to keep pushing for it. She even went so far as to support the opponents of the Republicans who voted against the bill in this year’s primaries.

Most of those Republicans were from rural areas and recognized the voucher program would hurt their public schools because private schools would be unlikely to open there. The candidates Reynolds supported said they would support Reynolds’ voucher plan.

“Iowans did not hatch this plan, and this plan is not popular with Iowans,” said Jean Swenson, a retired Iowa educator and member of the Iowa State Education Association. “Survey after survey, poll after poll indicates Iowans don’t want public money going into private schools. Yet the extremist notion continues to be touted by people who don’t seem to realize that public education is considered to be the great equalizer.”

Vouchers are unpopular among the majority of Iowans. Polling conducted by Data for Progress, for Starting Line, showed 60% of Iowans oppose Reynolds’ proposed policy, and 71% said public schools are important and need to be better funded.

Nick Covington, who was an Ankeny social studies teacher until spring, said that despite lax open enrollment laws, the vast majority of Iowans still choose their local public schools. He also reminded people that private schools aren’t bound to the same laws to educate everyone.

“When we talk about school choice under a voucher plan, we need to talk about choice for whom. Does that voucher spend the same for LGBTQ students and their families or for students with disabilities?” he asked.

An analysis done by One Iowa, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, found that 75% of Iowa’s nonpublic schools implicitly or explicitly discriminated against LGBTQ people. Only 15% explicitly protect against discrimination.

Students with disabilities are a little more complicated and the requirement to follow the Americans With Disabilities Act is based on whether the school receives federal funds.

“As the parent of a child with an individualized education plan or IEP, I called the local private school on Monday to see how they would accommodate my child with special needs,” Covington said. “I was told that they review it on a case-by-case basis because, quote, ‘We don’t have special education services here’ end quote.”

Andrea Phillips, a local parent who ran for the Iowa House, said education was one of the things her family was excited about moving to Iowa. She has a son with mild cerebral palsy, and she said she hasn’t had any problems with Iowa’s public schools.

“The public schools that my kids have been attending in Iowa have been amazing and they’ve always bent over backwards to help him to make sure that he gets the education that he needs and the time with his peers that he needs,” Phillips said.

Nonpublic schools, she pointed out, won’t have to do that.

“By taking the public funds and giving them to private schools you’re giving them to organizations that aren’t held accountable to the same standards that public schools are,” she said. “Your children deserve an excellent education, and so do the children of every Iowan.”


Nikoel Hytrek


Have a story idea or something I should know? Email me at nikoel@iowastartingline.com. You can also DM me on Twitter at @n_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

1 Comment on "Future Of Iowa’s Public Schools On The Ballot Tuesday, Advocates Warn"

  • I’m a lifelong Democrat(since ’76) and support vouchers. My tax dollars have certainly been spent on worse things! Have friends with children in public schools, private schools and homeschooling their own. I do believe you can support all three options as “one size does not fit all.” Why condemn parents and children to a failing public school? I’m all for school choice and if a few of my tax dollars are needed to make vouchers happen so be it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *