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School Choice in Iowa, a Preview of Other States, Hitting Some Bumps

March 21, 2017

Today’s NYTimes features an extended article by Dana Goldstein profiling the problems the Iowa legislature is wrestling with as it tries to expand its system of vouchers, a system that is a preview of where other states are attempting to move and a precursor to the kind of system Betsy DeVos is advocating for all public schools. As Goldstein writes, the problems aren’t coming from just public school advocates:

Despite Republican control of the governor’s mansion and both houses of the State Legislature, proposals to significantly expand school choice programs in Iowa are stalled, at least for now. The pushback has come from groups traditionally opposed to the idea — Democrats, school districts, teachers’ unions and parents committed to public schools — but also from some conservatives concerned about the cost to the state.

Fiscal conservatives have long been more concerned with taxes than with the well being of children and the disadvantaged students. But in Iowa, it is evident that fiscal conservatives and religious conservatives are in different camps and when the price tag for publicly funded private schools increased the fiscal conservatives aligned with the pro-public school groups. As a result, many of the bills that would increase choice and/or increase funding for “Education Savings Accounts” are stalled in both houses of the state legislature.

There is one ray of hope in Iowa, though. The head of the religious school profiled in the Times article expressed some misgivings about the impact Education Savings Accounts was having on the disadvantaged children in his state.

Mr. Te Grotenhuis (the head of the Christian school profiled in the article) hopes that more low-income families in Pella will choose his school if one of the education savings account proposals becomes law.

But opposition from his counterparts in the public system gave him pause. “If we start E.S.A.s and cause a negative impact on the public schools, I wouldn’t support that,” he said, referring to the education savings accounts. “It comes down to ‘love thy neighbor.’”

Maybe Mr. Te Grotenhuis can influence one of his legislators to think the same way. If that happens, we may see religious schools refusing to accept any state funds in the future.

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