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Public education paid by public funds became a reality with Iowa’s 1846 statehood. Despite 65 percent of Iowans not wanting private education to be supported by public funds (Selzer and Co. Iowa Poll, Dec. 3-6, 2017), our lawmakers have allocated $52 million to subsidize 52,000 privately educated students.

Recently, not only did the Republican-controlled Legislature want to increase private education funding by nearly five-fold to $240 million (HF 9 & SF 29; School Choice), they are attempting to jam SSB 3206 (Education Savings Account) down the public’s throat, which would permit a $4,000 voucher per Skill Bank child to attend private school.

Around 97 percent of Iowa’s 241 private schools have a religious stated mission statement. Separation of church and state secularism contends no public funds should be diverted to nonpublic private education. Iowa’s Constitution is being tested.

Q: Where would money come from to support either school choice or ESA?

A: Public education.

Don’t be hoodwinked when Republicans claim their pro-private education bills are “revenue neutral.” Money doesn’t grow on trees. If passed, resources will, guaranteed, be siphoned away from public education appropriations and given to private education providers.

Both bills would especially harm rural communities and place a significant financial burden on all school districts. With these two bills and the GOP’s history of underfunding public education it can only be surmised “smaller-smarter” government Republicans despise public education.

There’s another reason behind the GOP’s anti-public education chicanery. Citizens need to know the source of GOP-suggested ESA, voucher program, home schooling and school choice policies, who also help their campaign coffers: Americans for Prosperity ($82 million, funded by Koch brothers), School Policy Network ($8 million, Virginia group), ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council; $7 million funds), The Heartland Institute ($5 million budget), EdChoice ($5 million Indianapolis-based school choice education reform organization) and Iowa’s Family Leader. Follow the money.

When Republicans can provide statistically significant evidence ESAs as well as school choice will, guaranteed, improve educational outcomes and not one dime will be taken away from Iowa’s 333 public school districts, then Iowans will listen. This request of the GOP will not be forthcoming as The Brookings Institution, a century-old, nonpartisan American education-focused research group, has found, in statistically significant terms, the idea private education is superior to public education is a myth, and there is absolutely no “best” manner to educate children.

Iowans need a dose of reality. If 100 students from your public school each took $4,000 to be educated elsewhere, could your school survive with $400,000 less state funding? Imagine what school choice and/or ESAs will do to your town’s small businesses, economic development plans, neighborhood, property taxes and lifestyle when nonpublic schools sabotage your tax-supported public school.

Regarding ESAs and school choice, the Des Moines Register reported in 2017, “Iowa legislators are playing a dangerous game with the education of our children and the competitiveness of our state. They are determined to undermine Iowa’s communities, its businesses, our strong network of public schools and future.”

Since the 2010 tea party takeover, conservative Republicans have become radical. If we can’t afford to do better than a 1 percent increase for K-12 public education, which is below inflation and the cost of living, how can we possibly justify subsidizing nonpublic schools?

If legislators represent their constituents and not their party and/or out-of-state special interest groups, they will defeat SSB 3206, HF 9 and SF 29.

Nov. 6 will be an election opportunity to hold particular legislators accountable for their blatant anti-public education voting record.

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Steve Corbin is an emeritus professor of marketing at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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