Private Schools Bill Must Come With Responsibility >

The House of Representatives has a big chore coming up.

Those lawmakers are facing pressure from the governor to pass Senate Brief 2369. The bill was sent to the House in a 31-18 Senate vote on Wednesday. It provides 10,000 private scholarships funded by the Supplemental State Assistance formula per state student.

The Senate bill toed party lines with a Republican senator joining Democrats in their belief that the bill would harm public schools.

It will be.

The bill takes 70% of student aid per student and the remaining 30% goes to shared administrative costs, a move that appears aimed at consolidating the state’s small rural schools.

If families use the 10,000, which they will, it will cost public schools in this state nearly $74 million, $55 million in direct taxpayer dollars to private schools.

Let’s be very clear, public schools can do better, but they hit a mountain with other Republican laws, including the removal of bargaining rights. Public school teachers can only negotiate salaries. This decision pushed good teachers beyond our borders.

Now we’re going to take more money from the system, put it in private schools, oh…and tell public schools to have more transparency when it comes to curriculum and libraries. It seems a juxtaposition of demanding more transparency from public systems and then taking their money and giving it to institutions that don’t have the same mandates.

It just seems that this party that believes in less government only believes in business and contributions. And it’s really becoming more and more apparent.

It has nothing to do with choice. Nothing.

This is politics at its worst. This is a fist fight with a Des Moines public school system. A fight that spilled over into a gathered crowd – the state’s public school system. This is gameplay right before “hold my beer”.

Let’s break it down a bit. A legislature that said the state could afford no more than 2.5% growth will now take $74 million out of the formula and divert it to private programs. It seems strange.

And State Sen. Jeff Reichman underscored that it will help Iowa’s poorest and minorities, while pointing to the exodus of 775 students who dropped out of public schools in Des Moines.

But this bill provides a limited number of scholarships for those whose family income is below 400% of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $106,000 a year. I think a lot of families in the area fit that demographic.

No one is going to convince us that our public schools don’t have work to do and don’t have challenges. And in the same breath, no one can convince me that Holy Trinity Catholic staff are not on par with public school educators. We see the results.

So say what you want about choice and quality of education, and you can say a lot about both, but our biggest gripe is accountability.

If the private system had the same responsibility, we would now know what happened with Michael Sheerin. Why one of the most beloved men in local education abruptly moved away. We made several inquiries about the leave, but no one, including Sheerin, would comment on the situation. If he left instead of being fired, according to Iowa code, his file would become public and we would know what happened.

There are things the public can do to gain access to information in public school systems in an effort to hold everyone accountable. Public schools must post salaries, private schools do not. Public schools should educate everyone, private schools do not. Public schools must open board meetings to the public, unlike private schools. And as some do, they don’t have to.

Any type of voucher system could have merit. Some families simply cannot afford to withdraw their child from the public system. It can give them that chance. Competition is inherently good. It makes one better than the other, giving people choices. It’s no different than choosing one restaurant over another because it’s faster, cleaner, or friendlier.

But until the level playing field is leveled, as Central Lee Superintendent Dr. Andy Crozier has pointed out, you are dishonest to the public system and kicking it in the wallet at the same time. This clearly appears to be an effort to advance an agenda based on the philosophy that the market forces improvement.

Placing our education system on “the market” could ultimately anchor our education system on someone’s profit margin. And then what?…automation? improved digital courses?, reduced surface area? – maybe not square footage for educational purposes, but for sports purposes… double revenue streams and all. We could convert schools into community centers with sports facilities and only charge for admission.

If social media has shown us anything, isolation is so good for our kids.

If we continue down this path, students will be learning at home in front of a computer because a 40,000 square foot facility where collaboration and socializing are integral to our learning system does not fit the business model.

It’s not about minorities or the working poor, it’s about politics and selling.

You want to level the playing field – it’s great and it reinforces that competitive nature, but everyone has to accept special education students and students with disabilities. School board meetings must be open to the public, agendas and minutes must be posted, expenses posted, salaries posted.

If taxpayers have a greater role in the funding structure, they should have greater responsibility for how it all works.

I’m going to New York for a few days to reconnect with our eldest daughter. I’m sure there will be sightseeing and high rise buildings, but by God there will be a street hot dog. We spent four days there a few years ago and I had a slice, but didn’t have a dog. It will happen, but that’s beside the point.