CEDAR FALLS — Representatives of Cedar Valley public school boards are voicing opposition to possible legislation providing state funds for private educational options.
The Cedar Falls Board of Education on Monday unanimously approved a resolution opposing “structural changes to the public school funding formula.” Lawmakers “highest priority” should be “to promote and fully invest in Iowa’s public schools,” reads the resolution.
“We as a board are against diverting money away from our public schools that way,” said board member Eric Giddens. He noted Gov. Kim Reynolds declared this to be “School Choice Week” with events being held across the state. “This turns out to be a very timely resolution for us.”
The resolution was crafted after a resident raised concerns during the board’s public comment period two weeks ago about the possibility of the Legislature approving vouchers that give parents state funds to pay for private education.
Creating a mechanism to provide state funds for families who want to send their children to nonpublic schools has been a long-time goal for advocates of so-called school choice. Last year, bills were proposed to provide funding through vouchers and education savings accounts, but they didn’t advance to a vote in either chamber.
Rep. Walt Rogers, a Cedar Falls Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, noted another bill is in process this year.
“ESA legislation is being drafted,” he said in an emailed response to questions. “I do expect the bill to be introduced in the education committee within the next few months.”
One of the concerns expressed during last year’s session was the expense of such a proposal.
“We are working to make it revenue neutral,” said Rogers, meaning it would require no new appropriations from the state. “The impact on a specific public school would be similar to when a student open enrolls from one school to another. This would truly give parents more choice and students more opportunities to choose the school that best fit them.”
State per-pupil funding moves with students who open enroll to a public school outside of the district they live in. If that concept is extended to education savings accounts, funds would be transferred from public to private schools.
That’s a concern for Shanlee McNally, president of Waterloo’s Board of Education.
“Funding for schools in Iowa is already tight,” she said. “I believe it would come at the expense of public schools.”
There are other problems McNally has with directing public funds to private schools.
Public schools “have to hold ourselves to standards, and not all private schools are held to the same standards,” she said. “I also have concern that as public schools we serve every child who comes to us” even if they have physical or mental disabilities or aren’t native speakers of English. “I just want to make sure that all of our children are being served, and that’s what public schools do and why I support them.”
McNally said some of this was discussed a week ago when the grassroots organization Parents for Great Iowa Schools held a meeting at the Waterloo Center for the Arts.
However, Waterloo’s board currently has no plans to take a stand on the issue. “I do believe we probably will do a resolution at some point,” said McNally, similarly opposing such school funding changes. She would like to see the legislation before that happens, though.
Regarding the Cedar Falls resolution, board member Jenny Leeper asked ‘’What effect will this have?” She suggested the board needed to take “stronger steps” after passing the resolution to build momentum.
Superintendent Andy Pattee said one of those steps could be “helping and encouraging parents and community members who have a vested interest in education to reach out” and tell their legislators how they feel about the issue.