Steve Corbin wrote a column in the Jan. 28 Courier arguing against allowing a portion of education funding to follow the student when the parents choose something other than public schools for their child. His column accuses me of “hoodwinking the public,” but it is the opponents of increased school choice who are misleading Iowans. Iowans deserve the truth.

First, Corbin’s accusation is based on two bills I have never voted or commented on (HF 9 and SF 29); the proposal I am working on would need no new appropriation, and local taxpayers would actually save money.

Corbin claims the existing $15.5 million Tuition and Textbook Tax Credit goes entirely to private school families, when in reality 93 percent of those credits go to public school families. Additionally, the $12 million School Tuition Organization program he mentions is a targeted scholarship program for low-income families that could not attend nonpublic schools without support. According to an Iowa Department of Revenue study, the STO program saves Iowa taxpayers money.

Corbin claims increasing educational opportunities for all families will somehow harm public schools, causing them to “greatly suffer,” but the existing research shows the opposite.

There have been 31 evaluations of private school choice programs’ impact on public schools. Twenty-nine of these studies found offering school choice improved the performance of nearby public schools. The remaining two studies found no observable impact, and no study has ever found offering private choice academically hurts students who remain in public schools.

Of the 18 most rigorous studies on academic outcomes, 14 show positive results for participants. For example, students benefiting from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program scored 10.7 percentage points higher in math and 5.8 percentage points higher in reading than their peers in public school.

There is also a philosophical question at the heart of Corbin’s argument: Should the Legislature continue to create new options for parents? These arguments have occurred many times over the years, whether for magnet schools, charter schools or private school choice measures. Each time, opponents have said such measures would lead to public schools being worse off. Each time, opponents have been wrong.

I get a lot of emails as chairman of the House Education Committee, but I recently received one from a constituent that really hit the nail on the head. It read:

Walt,

I wanted to send you a quick email to let you know we support school vouchers. We would like to send our son to private school in the fall and we are going to be scraping to make ends meet with that choice. The public school in our neighborhood is not rated very high and we’ve heard bad things about the bullying situation there. We want to give him the best start we can, so we are hoping to send him to (private school in their town) in the fall. We see the benefit in using school vouchers. It would give our son and our family a great advantage to have that option.

I have received similar input frequently during my eight years in the Legislature.

If education is a priority, should we not ensure every Iowa student has the education that best meets his or her needs? Private schools are accredited by the state or qualified agencies, have significant accountability to parents and the state and meet the needs of many ELL and special needs students. Public schools are a great fit for many Iowa students, but not all.

We need to give all parents more choice and their children more opportunity.

Rep. Walt Rogers, R-Cedar Falls, represents Iowa House District 60.

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