Kalbach: Gov. Reynolds ramps up her attacks on public schools

Barb Kalbach. Photo submitted

By Guest Post

January 22, 2024

We’re just past two weeks into the 2024 legislative session, and Gov. Kim Reynolds is already ramping up her crusade to defund our public schools through an unproven voucher plan.

This year, Reynolds wants to transfer another $179.2 million of our tax dollars to private schools. It’s a terrible idea that will lead to additional pressures on the local public schools that are the heart and soul of many of our communities, especially in rural Iowa.

Reynolds’ $179.2 million proposal is an increase of more than $31 million (almost 21%) from the current fiscal year budget estimate for private vouchers. We have 327 school districts in Iowa. That means the Governor wants to take away an average of $548,012 per district. Imagine what $548,012 could do for your local schools. It could mean hiring additional teachers, bus drivers and other support staff. It could also be used for building and equipment improvements and other needed capital projects.

Public schools are accountable to the broader local community. They have school boards that are elected by – and answerable to – local voters. Public school boards provide direction for the education of our students. They represent a continuing commitment to local citizen decision-making in public education. Private schools, on the other hand, are not accountable to the broader local community, but yet we’re spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars (public money, which is our money) to support them.

What we know so far is the Iowa Department of Education approved 18,893 private school vouchers for the 2023-24 school year. Families can use up to $7,635 per student to pay private school expenses, including tuition and fees. It’s estimated that 60% of vouchers are being used by kids that were already attending private schools.

When I talk with other members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, we want to know where that money is going. Which private schools are benefitting from the vouchers and which schools are losing out? How many students stayed in the private schools? Which private schools are getting the most money? What happens when a private school student goes back to a public school? That money does not follow them back, it stays in the “Education Savings Account.”

This whole voucher scheme seems to be creating a two-tiered education system here in Iowa. Bob Peterson, a veteran classroom teacher and former Milwaukee School Board president, said this in a November 2023 guest opinion in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: “Establishing two school systems — one public and one private, yet both supported with tax dollars —only expands the ability of private schools to pick and choose the most desirable students and only widens the gap between the haves and have-nots.” Amen to that!

Both of my daughters work in public education here in Iowa. My grandkids go to public schools. I served on my local school board for 12 years, where we upheld our commitment to serve all students regardless of income, ability, background or belief. I’m proud of what our rural schools have accomplished. Governor Reynolds’ continued attack on public education will make life a lot harder for schools, children and parents all over Iowa. We’re going to do everything we can to turn this around!

Barb Kalbach is a fourth-generation family farmer, registered nurse, and board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Barb can be reached at [email protected].



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