Sioux City School District Opposes Reynolds’ Proposed Private School Vouchers | national news
SIOUX CITY – A taxpayer-funded private school tuition assistance program has been passed by the Iowa Senate for the Iowa House and some Sioux City lawmakers and the school district Sioux City community do not support him.
The bill known as “Student First Scholarships” is one of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ top legislative priorities and would authorize up to 10,000 scholarships for public school students to transfer to private schools.
The scholarships would be funded using 70% of the per-student funding public schools receive, or about $5,362 per student, according to the governor’s office, and would be available to students from families at or below 400% the federal poverty level, or $111,000 of income for a family of four.
The proposal is similar to one put forward at the start of this legislative session by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds.
The bill, Senate File 2369, passed mostly a party-line vote, 31-18, with support from Republicans and opposition from Democrats. Republican Senator Annette Sweeney of Alden was the only crossover.
Senate Republicans argued that the legislation will allow more parents to choose to send their children to private schools if those parents have a problem with their local public school.
“This is not an attack on teachers or our schools. … This is not a bill designed to undermine public education,” Senator Amy Sinclair, a Republican from Allerton who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said during an indoor debate. “Plain and simple, folks, this bill is about parental rights.”
Democrats warned that the private scholarship proposal would negatively impact public schools and argued that taxpayer funding should not go to schools that are not held to the same standards of public accountability and do not are not required to accept all students.
Sen. Jackie Smith, D-Sioux City, voted against the bill saying most citizens she has heard from do not support the use of public funds for private schools.
“Someone explained that they were using public money to pay for your neighbor’s entrance and not yours,” she said. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair.”
She added that she had heard from parents with children in public and private schools who were against the bill. She said private schools were not required to accept all students and were not subject to the same government oversight. With these scholarships, she said it could potentially lead to more surveillance.
Local lawmakers believe the vouchers will have the biggest impact on small schools and communities.
Smith said rural schools are already at risk, and the loss of students will have a big impact not only on district funding, but also on the community’s property tax base.
Rep. Steve Hansen, D-Sioux City, agreed, saying the bill would be “the beginning of the end for rural school districts.”
“If you take 10 students, 15 students from the Lawton-Bronson school district, they still have roughly the same expenses, and yet they’re going to lose between $50,000 and $70,000,” he said. “It’s a hole they’re struggling to fill.”
He said that would likely result in higher property taxes.
The administration of the Sioux City Community School District opposes the bill, according to a statement.
“The proposed vouchers would take taxpayer money out of public schools, ultimately impacting the education of thousands of students in our district and across Iowa at a time when funds have already run out. We do not believe that the vouchers, as offered, would benefit our students, our district, or the state.
The House bill does not contain the private school tuition assistance program. In 2021, a similar proposal failed to gain enough support in the House, even with its Republican majority. The proposal faces a similar hurdle in the House this year.
“Iowa parents have raised concerns about age-inappropriate materials and left-leaning curriculum in their child’s classroom and school libraries,” said Rep. Phil Thompson, a Republican from Jefferson who oversaw the House bill, in a press release Wednesday. “I believe that parents matter and deserve to have a say in their child’s education. The best way to give them a voice is to increase transparency. Parents deserve to know what their child is being taught.
Eventually, Republican leaders in the House and Senate, as well as Reynolds, will have to reach a compromise agreement on the myriad of topics covered in these bills.
“We continue to work on (the private scholarship program). I will continue to be optimistic until the end,” Reynolds said at a press conference on Wednesday. “I think it elevates the whole education. I think that’s a positive thing. I don’t think it’s something other schools should be afraid of, because a strong public school system is also fundamental to our state and the success of our state. So they can coexist together.
Erin Murphy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette contributed to this story.