Rural Iowa Superintendent Says Voucher Bill Helps Privileged Few That Private Schools Can ‘Cherry-Pick’

Perry Superintendent Clark Wicks

By Ty Rushing

January 23, 2023

Perry Community Schools Superintendent Clark Wicks has a few thoughts on Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school voucher bill, which Iowa lawmakers are set to debate on Monday.

Wicks said the legislation, which would divert over $900 million in taxpayer funds over its first four years alone, is an attack on public schools in order to create and develop more private schools that cater to the privileged few. About 92% of school-age children in Iowa attend public schools.

“Are we just here in Iowa for the few—the eight percent—or are we also here for the 92 percent? Because what this goal is, is to create elitism and destroy public schools,” he said.

Wicks has worked in Iowa’s public school system for 40 years. He’s spent the last 30 years—six as superintendent, 24 as an elementary school principal—in Perry, a rural Dallas County community of nearly 8,000 people about 25 miles northwest of Des Moines.

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One of Wicks’ issues is this bill bucks norms on how public taxpayer dollars are spent.

“There are no examples—other than this one right here—where public funds are now channeled to private initiatives,” he said. “Police, fire, public golf courses, DOT, all of those, we do not go and trade that public fund for an individual’s private use.”

Reynolds calls her proposal the “Student-First Act” and says it offers all families true school choice when it comes to their children’s education.

Under the new bill, every Iowa public school student—more than 481,000 kids, according to state data—would be eligible to receive $7,598 from the state that their families can use to pay for private school tuition or other associated expenses. 

Private school kids would also be granted access to those funds. The first two years of the bill’s enactment would limit that ability to lower-income private school kids, but by the third year, it would be open to all.

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Wicks firmly believes public funds should go to public schools. He said that kids who are enrolled in private schools can already afford to attend those institutions.

“My whole thing is it’s always the right time to do what’s right and the right thing is to support public schools which help a huge, huge population so those kids can be educated to be productive citizens and also be tax-paying people so that they can help all of Iowa,” he said.

Another criticism Wicks has of the bill is that private schools are allowed to reject kids for whatever reason they wish—something Rep. John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) confirmed during a hearing—whereas public schools educate every student. 


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Wicks noted this is why it would be unfair to say public schools are afraid to compete with private schools since the playing field isn’t level.

“They will be cherry-picking those students they want to go to a private school,” Wicks said. “This isn’t a parent choice, this is a private school choice; whether we accept you or not. They do not say what their scores are, their graduation rates, they do not accept special education students, they rarely accept [English-language learners].

“Will they take on all the behavior issues? So they’re cherry-picking and if you cherry-pick the best, your scores should be better. There is nothing good I see in those whole things.”

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The bill’s supporters have argued at the Capitol that public schools act like a monopoly when it comes to educating children.

“We do have a monopoly in this state; we do have an educational monopoly and I’ve always been taught since I was a little kid in public schools that monopolies are bad,” Wills said during a committee hearing on Wednesday. 

“In fact, that national government made a law that says you can’t have a monopoly. Sometimes in the government, we have to have that.”

Wicks argues that this is not the case.

“Monopolize. We haven’t monopolized anybody. If you chose to go to another school—private or public—you can do that. That is a choice,” Wicks said.

Iowa also has open enrollment, so a parent can choose which public school system they want their child to attend.

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Wicks plans on being at the Capitol for Monday’s debates to make his voice heard. He’s proud of the work he’s done in public education and noted his three college graduate children and his grandkids are all products of public schools.

In addition to his own family, Wicks said he’s proud of the kids he saw at Perry Elementary School who’ve gone on to be successful adults and productive community members including a number of whom that started off as English-language learners.

“Thank goodness Perry and Perry public schools were accepting of everybody because everybody counts,” Wicks said.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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