Here is what everyone needs to understand about the Voucher bill that was passed by the Iowa Senate on Thursday and is heading to the House this week:
Republicans in Iowa and many states have been advocating for Vouchers for years. Betsy Devos elevated this campaign nationally, and ALEC created bills, now being pitched as “School Choice Legislation” are popping up in Republican controlled states across the country. The bill making its way through the Iowa legislator isn’t the effort of Iowa Senators, and it’s not Governor Reynold’s creative plan to help needy kids in Iowa like she wants everyone to believe. It’s an ALEC bill that was created as a steppingstone to larger Voucher programs that will completely reshape our state’s education system. It will damage our public schools, divert tax dollars to private schools, and it will widen existing inequalities. It will further segregate our communities by race and socioeconomic status. It will hurt Iowa’s Public Schools.
This bill, SF 159, tries to soften the hearts of Iowans by carefully planning the first steppingstone of their voucher program to only offering vouchers to kids in Iowa’s “failing public schools.” The problem is, even if this was where Republicans wanted their “school choice” efforts to end, which is it not, it is still fundamentally a flawed approach that will hurt both Urban and Rural public schools.
Republicans pushing for vouchers continue to use the term “failing schools” as a synonym for the 34 schools identified by our state as “In need of comprehensive improvement.” These are absolutely not synonyms.
Every year our state, because of a federal law called “The Every Child Succeeds Act,” must rank schools based on measures such as test scores, English proficiency, graduation rates, conditions for learning as determined by student surveys, and other metrics. Then they must identify the lowest performing 5% of schools in their state as in need of “Comprehensive” improvements. These are not “Failing schools.” In fact, every time I’ve heard a Republican use that term I get angrier.
It infuriates me because nearly every single school being referred to as “Failing” is also on another nationally compiled list: Low-Income Schools serving a high proportion of students eligible for free and reduced lunch. Do you know why these lists share so many schools? Because the socioeconomic status of a school is the number one predictor of most of the metrics we are using to rank our schools. Schools that serve wealthy communities will always outrank schools that serve low-income communities when the ranking system is heavily based on standardized test performance, graduation rates, and even ENGLISH PROFICIENCY.
So yes, these are schools in need of comprehensive support—But not because they are failing schools. Many of these schools are incredible and have amazing teachers in them. In fact, the list of schools that SF 159 refers to isn’t even a list of struggling schools. What it really is, is a list of schools serving low-income students. It’s a list of schools we absolutely should be identifying. But we should be identifying them so we can bring bills to the Senate floor that will provide those teachers additional resources and support. We should be bringing bills to the Governor’s desk that will incentivize the best educational leaders in our state to go work in the those buildings. The point of identifying the 5% of your lowest performing schools is to HELP those schools, not create laws that will damage them and force many of them to close—leaving many urban and rural communities with no public school.
SF 159 won’t help our state. It will take away funding and resources from 34 communities that need more resources, not less. It will hurt kids. And it’s only the beginning of what School Choice advocates hope to see happen to our Public Schools.
If you support Public Schools, I urge you to please contact your State Representatives and tell them to vote NO to any bill that creates Vouchers in Iowa. Public Tax Dollars are for Public Schools. Period.