Action Alert: Voucher bill in the Iowa Senate (updated)

State Senator Claire Celsi sounds the alarm about the latest attempt to divert public school funding to private schools and homeschooling families. -promoted by Laura Belin

Every year, like clockwork, a dangerous and ruinous private school voucher bill comes up in the House or Senate. In 2018, the bill made it to a House subcommittee, but was never brought to the full committee because it didn't have the votes. State Representative Walt Rogers, who brought the bill forward last year, was not re-elected.

This year, the Iowa Senate is emboldened to pass this legislation, Senate File 372. Monday, March 4 will be the big test of whether Republicans are serious about moving it forward. The meeting will be held in the Iowa Senate in room 22 at 2:00 p.m. Public comment is not allowed at this meeting, but people are encouraged to attend. Show up early and be prepared to stand for up to an hour. Wear your "Red for Ed" apparel.

Vouchers are a way for private schools to obtain funding from states. In this case, $6,880 in taxpayer money would be placed on a debit card and given to parents to spend either on private school tuition or on expenses for home-schooled children.

There are many problems with the whole concept of vouchers. Here are some of the major reasons that were brought up by opponents in the subcommittee meeting:

  • Vouchers would carry an astronomical price tag. A similar bill considered in the 2018 legislative session (authored by Senator Charles Schneider) estimated the cost at $265 million. If we actually think we can come up with that kind of money, why wouldn't we invest it in public schools?
  • Funding private schools may be unconstitutional. Religious schools are considered as part of a church's ministry, and Iowa's constitution expressly forbids that kind of expenditure.
  • Private schools don't have to accept all students like public schools do.
  • Private schools expressly discriminate against LGBTQ students, teachers and parents.
  • Iowa already funds private schools to the tune of more than $60 million per year - in the form of STO tax credits and help with special education, transportation, technology and books. In a year when we can only eke out a paltry 2 percent increase in state funding for K-12 schools (a cut in real terms for most districts), we have no business giving any more money to private schools.
  • Many home-schooled kids have a parent who is qualified and dedicated to teaching them at home. However, by law, home-schooled children have absolutely no oversight now. Do we really want to pay people a significant sum of public money to keep their kids out of public view? I am truly frightened for at-risk kids like those who have been bullied, have mental or physical disabilities or may need other services provided by public schools. Right now, there is no way to know who these kids are, their level of educational achievement or their other potential needs. We are failing to prepare many of these children for future careers.
  • There are two things you can do. First, show up at the meeting. Second, contact all the Republican members on the Senate Education Committee. Here are their email addresses. Please tell them that you oppose private and home-school vouchers and Senate File 372. All the Democrats oppose this bill and will be voting no.

    Please include Senate President Charles Schneider and the Majority Leader Jack Whitver:

    Together, we can stop this harmful legislation from becoming law. Thank you for caring.

    UPDATE from Laura Belin: Republicans pulled Senate File 372 off the Education Committee's agenda on March 4. However, they put it back on the agenda for the committee's final meeting before the "funnel" on March 7. A new version of the bill would provide the "education savings grants" only to students with a disability or an "individual education plan" (commonly known as an IEP). The amended bill, now numbered Senate File 547, passed the Education Committee by eight votes to seven. Republicans Sinclair, Behn, Edler, Johnson, Kraayenbrink, Rozenboom, Sweeney, and Zaun voted to send the bill to the Senate floor. Republicans Cournoyer and Lofgren joined committee Democrats Celsi, Herman Quirmbach, Amanda Ragan, Jackie Smith, and Zach Wahls in voting against the bill.

    Claire Celsi is a State Senator from West Des Moines, serving Senate District 21, covering SW Polk County and Cumming in Warren County. She serves on the Senate Education Committee.

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