It’s time for Iowa House Republicans to step up and support school choice, including those representing rural districts.
The Iowa Senate passed a bill last week 31 to 18, supported by every Iowa Senate Republican except State Senator Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, to fund students, not systems.
Senate File 2369 creates “Student First Scholarships,” an education savings account program that would be implemented during the 2022-2023 school year. A scholarship would be worth 70 percent of the state’s per-pupil spending, currently $5,359, for qualified education expenses defined in the bill, such as non-public school tuition, textbooks, curriculum, tutoring, non-public online education, and vocational education.
A student must be enrolled in a public school for the 2021-22 school year and have a household income that does not exceed 400 percent of the federal poverty level or have an individualized educational plan to be eligible. The scholarships in the first year will be capped at 10,000.
The bill includes a compromise to address concerns from rural districts.
The remaining 30 percent of the per-pupil funding from a student receiving a “Student First Scholarship” will be reallocated to school districts that participate in operational sharing among districts (which describes many of Iowa’s rural school districts). This represents a change from the original language in Gov. Kim Reynolds’ bill. The original language in the bill stated that the money would go to schools with a student enrollment of 500 or less (representing fewer school districts).
Republicans representing rural districts who oppose this bill are not doing it because they are ideologically aligned with progressive educators and teachers’ unions. No, they have just bought into the lie that school choice will somehow hurt their school district.
Another argument we’ve heard some House Republicans make is that their opposition is meant to somehow protect private schools from state government “strings.”
What strings? Have those making this claim not read the bill? If SF 2369 created a voucher program with money going directly to a private school instead of an Education Savings Account that a parent controls, that claim could have legs.
But it doesn’t. It’s a deflection to make a legislator come across as a savior of private education instead of an opponent of parental choice.
Don’t buy it.
It is time to name names. We know Iowa House Democrats oppose school choice. Iowans have the right to know where their legislator stands on this issue. (We hope that Speaker Grassley will hold a vote on this bill even if there is not enough support just so we can get everyone on the record.)
Here’s a name.
State Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, has not publicly opposed the school choice bill, but several sources have indicated to us that he, as chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee, has been a roadblock. Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, pulling the Hosue version of the bill out of his committee to the Iowa House Appropriations Committee is further confirmation. (The Iowa Torch also directly asked Hite if he supported the bill last week, and he never replied.)
We don’t think he supports CRT taught in schools or supports gender identity indoctrination. We also don’t believe he is a cheerleader for teachers’ unions. However, we think he is under the impression that the bill will harm the North Mahaska School District and other school districts he represents.
Several private Christian schools close to New Sharon: Peoria Christian School, Oskaloosa Christian School, Sully Christian School, Pella Christian High School, and Pella Christian Grade School are all within 15 miles of New Sharon. Will there be a mass exodus of students to go to these schools? It isn’t very likely, but a few may.
In the newly drawn Iowa House District 88, where Hite is running for re-election, Oskaloosa Christian School is the district’s only private school (that we were able to discover). Does he not plan on representing them? Or will he only care about the public schools in his district? Do people who would like to homeschool not matter?
Most parents will keep their kids in public school, especially if there is not a private school nearby. Homeschooling is an option, but it requires a sacrifice for two-income families, even with an ESA program. If a family hasn’t opted to homeschool now, it’s unlikely an ESA program will be the tipping point.
While we are using State Representative Hite as an example, this could also be applied to other representatives who lack courage.
(Update: Here are the names of two additional House Republicans who have come out in opposition to this bill – State Reps. Dennis Bush, R-Cherokee, and Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs.)
There are Iowa House Republicans representing rural districts who have the courage to support this bill.
State Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Orange City, the vice-chair of the Iowa House Education Committee, also represents rural school districts. However, he not only supports the Governor’s school choice bill, but he also introduced a version that was more expansive.
He understands that his job is to support all parents, not just prop up a government monopoly in K-12 education based on fearmongering that will never come to pass.
Not a single public school has closed due to school choice, and studies have shown that competition breeds innovation and improves quality.
Transparency in education, particularly with curriculum, is essential, but that alone is not enough. Parents must be given the tools to choose the best educational option for their students.
The Iowa House needs to pass this bill now, not punt this issue for another time down the road. We’ve waited long enough.