I proudly join area superintendents who serve public school students in this effort to communicate with families, staff, and the public regarding our concerns about the Education Savings Account (ESA) bill.
As we anticipated, the ESA bill has been drafted, at least on the Senate side of the Capitol. Senate File 2091 is a very concerning bill that provides significant funding to non-public schools and homeschooled families. This bill would cost millions of dollars and comes at a time when public schools are being told there is very little new money available for funding. This bill is especially troubling as it would disproportionately impact traditionally underserved students. You are aware that, as a district, we are doubling down on transforming our public school experience to deliver on the promise of Every Learner Future Ready.
This is a critical time for public school parents and advocates to contact legislators. (Click HERE to see a copy of SF 2091.)
Here's a quick summary of the bill (PLEASE READ THESE SEVEN IMPORTANT POINTS]:
- Creates education savings accounts (ESA), which is another term for private education vouchers. ESAs/Vouchers use state tax dollars to pay for private education (i.e. religious schools, other private schooling or pay for the costs of home schooling)
- Makes ESAs available starting with the 2019-2020 school year to "eligible students"
- Defines eligible students as:
- ALL kindergarteners who choose private schools or homeschooling
- ALL kids in 1st through 12th grades who attended public schools the previous year (two consecutive semesters) who move into private schools or homeschooling
- Students who received an ESA in a prior year, with a maximum of 5 years of ESA funding per student (In other words, parents can get an ESA for up to 5 years per child unless their student graduates high school before the 5 year max.)
- Provides nearly $4,000 per year directly to families of private schooled or home schooled child through an ESA. [Note: The Senate's formula is likely an attempt to calm the waters by allocating only STATE education dollars and not local property tax dollars to ESAs...but remember, dollars from the State budget are still tax dollars (property tax or sales tax)].
- Allows parents of private or homeschooled children to use ESA money to pay for college tuition.
- Gives authority to private schools and homeschooling families to operate as they see fit. In other words, the money can be used by families to attend private schools or homeschools that have less accountability or no accountability in things like standardized testing, public reporting, or required offerings. [NOTE: The bill does not require private schools to admit all students, so they retain the ability to admit (or not admit) any student. As a matter of fact, the bill actually states the Department of Education cannot "exercise authority" over private schools or homeschooling families to modify policies.]
- Prohibits the Iowa Department of Ed from proposing any laws that create "an undue burden on private schools or homeschoolers" [Note: This bill is silent on "undue burdens" to public schools.]
Now is the time to contact your legislators and Governor Reynolds on bills like SF 2091 that divert additional tax dollars from public school students to families to pay for private schooling and homeschooling. Unless legislators are going to ensure equal accountability, including equal admissions policies, this bill must not move forward. The millions of public tax dollars this plan will cost should instead be invested in public schools, which educate 95% of Iowa students. This is a moment to take important action in the spirit of the Power of We. Contact your legislators now and ask them to invest in public schools so we can maintain and improve education for your children whom we proudly serve.
Dr. Brad Buck