School Choice was on display in Des Moines yesterday as approximately 250 private school students, teachers and supporters came for their day at the Iowa State Capitol. The event was sponsored by Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education and their lobbying and public policy wing – Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education with the full support of the Iowa Association of Christian Schools and Iowa Catholic Conference. The event which featured remarks from State Senator Jeff Danielson (D-Cedar Falls), House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake) and Robert Enlow, the President & CEO of The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, as well as, vocal performances by students from Des Moines Christian School and Dowling Catholic High School.
State Senator Danielson, an advocate of the School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credit program, spoke first. Danielson said that educational choice is a bipartisan issue. “There is not a Democrat or Republican way to grow opportunity in Iowa, especially for our schools, and this is an effort that has been bipartisan in both chambers and supported by governors along the way.”
Referencing the STO tax credit program anyway. Other measures, such as independent accreditation for non-public schools, independent private instruction for homeschooling families, along with other measures have always had bipartisan support.
House Majority Leader Upmeyer encouraged the lobbying efforts of those in attendance. “There is no better lobby than each of you talking to your own legislator.” She noted that accredited non-public schools alone educate about 34,000 students in Iowa. “Collectively Iowa’s non-public schools are one of the state’s largest employers,” she added.
She said that non-public schools saves the state $250 million every year. She said she a supporter of the STO tax credit program, and thanked Governor Branstad for including it in his budget this year. Upmeyer said, “we hope to get the program to a point where it will meet all of the demands for the scholarships that each one of you might want to participate in.”
Upmeyer added, “every Iowa parent should be able to choose the public school, private school, virtual school, or home school option that best suits their needs regardless of zip code or socio-economic status. If we believe that parents hold the primary responsibility over the education of our children then we need to build a system that empowers and partners with parents by giving them the choices and providing them the opportunities for a great educational product.”
Enlow in his remarks said that Iowa led the way in 2006-2007 with school choice being bipartisan (STO tax credit). “You guys are leaders that we follow around the country now,” Enlow remarked.
The Iowa House passed some robust educational choice measures in the educational reform package they approved in February. State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) included an education savings grant program in the bill he filed Tuesday night to repeal the Iowa Department of Education and State Board of Education. Iowa Senate Republicans yesterday introduced Senate File 323 which would also create education savings grants for students attending a non-public school or receiving competent private instruction (homeschooling). The amount each child would receive upon their approved application would an amount “equal to the statewide average state foundation aid per pupil in the same school year.”
You can watch videos of the speakers’ full remarks below: