Cedar Rapids Officials Worry About Future Of Public Education

Photo by Starting Line Staff

State Rep. Sami Scheetz (D-Cedar Rapids) held a roundtable on Wednesday to discuss drastic changes to public education following the 2023 legislative session, including the fiscal impact of Iowa’s new state-funded private school tuition program.

The roundtable was held at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, and panelists included State Sen. Liz Bennett (D-Cedar Rapids), Cedar Rapids School District Superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover, Cedar Rapids School Board members Cindy Garlock and David Tominksky, and Cedar Rapids Education Association President Eriece Colbert.

During the event, Scheetz was concerned about the future of Iowa’s public education system, which was once considered one of the best in the country. 

“People would move to Iowa because we had the best public schools,” he said. “That was because we fully invested in our public education system. We respected educators, we empowered educators.”

After inevitable budget cuts to the Cedar Rapids Community School District, which enrolled 14,857 students in the last school year, Scheetz said the legislation takes away focus on public school students.

“Our budget is a reflection of our priorities, and by extension, our public education systems are a reflection of how important our children are at the state level,” he said. 

Tominsky said the legislators making decisions about public schools are not close enough to understand the impact. 

“How many decisions have been made so far away from where the decision should be,” he asked.

Impacts from the voucher bill are already being felt 

Another big topic was the forum was Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new private school voucher program, which will use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to pay for private school tuition.

“Public education is the great equalizer—and we’ve just tipped the scales,” said Garlock, another Cedar Rapids School Board member. “The amount of money that is going to move from public schools to private schools is astounding.”

Colbert of the Cedar Rapids Education Association said she fears the consequences that follow the voucher bill. 

“We’ll be looking at teachers not having jobs,” she said. “We just can’t fund what we don’t have money for.”

Colbert said the district was really hard on not taking cuts.

“We know that it’s for the dollar where we get the biggest impact,” she said. “We have to have highly qualified educators in front of our kids, and a voucher system, as it’s designed, will possibly diminish that capability over time.”

As a result of the voucher bill, the Cedar Rapids School District is expected to lose nearly $7.5 million of funding over the next three years. 

The Des Moines Community School District, Iowa’s largest school district with nearly 30,000 students, announced a 2% reduction in staff and a 5% reduction in support and central office staff. The district is expected to cut $11 million from its 2023-24 budget. 

Grover, who was hired as superintendent of Cedar Rapids schools in January, said the consequence of the voucher bill will impact support for teachers, community partners, and new programs in the district. 

“With the budget we are facing, many programs we’ll be going away unless we’re able to find creative ways to fund them,” she said.

Garlock noted the state of Iowa has plenty of money to fully fund schools. 

“We have a Taxpayer Relief Fund that has about $2.7 billion in it,” she said. “We have a reserve balance that has $895 million in it. Our general fund surplus was $1.6 billion. So if anyone is telling you that there isn’t money to pay for public schools, the money is there. It’s just a matter of priorities, and currently, public schools don’t seem to be at the top of their priority.”



by Grace Katzer

If you enjoy stories like these, make sure to sign up for Iowa Starting Line’s newsletter and/or our working class-focused Worker’s Almanac newsletter.

Have a story idea for me? Email grace@couriernewsroom.com, or find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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. Find ISL on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

1 Comment on "Cedar Rapids Officials Worry About Future Of Public Education"

  • Good public schools will continue to thrive. However marginal and subpar schools will face increased scrutiny and long overdue competition. Lots of families are enrolling in the voucher program and exercising their pro-school choice options.

Leave a Reply

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