school-choice-1Options are a good thing.  An important part of the capitalist society is having options and the ability to choose them.  However, most Iowans do not have options for educating their children – but they want them!

Iowa government schools have been considered good and have strong support from taxpayers.  However, achievement has been stagnant for several years now.  This is a well-documented fact, based on ACT test scores, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.  As a result, parents of the 500,000 children needing an education are interested in options.  This is especially true when voters find out how much we spend educating each child.

Over 600 Iowa voters were interviewed in June concerning K-12 education.  After the economy and jobs (27 percent), education is viewed as a critical public policy issue (19 percent), and three of four voters “pay attention” to education issues.  Most voters (65 percent) think our government schools are either “good” or “excellent.”  There is a fairly significant difference, though, between Democrat and Republican voters.  Democrats, by 71 to 29 percent, think the government schools are good, while only 58 percent of Republicans do.

However, virtually no one, Democrat or Republican, has any idea how much we pay to attempt to educate our children.  Only 11 percent think that we spend over $8,000 per student.  As a result many (45 percent) think we do not spend enough on education.  When informed that the total cost per student is almost $12,000 per year, this number drops significantly, to only one of three thinking we spend too little.  When provided with the facts, many then decide that we spend too much.

Yet, even with strong support for government schools, one of three voters would chose a private school for their child.  Private schools are viewed as providing a more rigorous education with better teachers.  Parents and taxpayers want the best education possible for our children – they understand that we need more rigor, whether provided by the government or a private entity.  Iowans want the best.  They do not especially care where it comes from.

There is also solid support for charter schools, which are government schools operating outside the normal system.  Some charter schools are science or arts focused.  Unfortunately, there are only three charter schools in Iowa.

When looking at vouchers and Educational Savings Accounts (ESA), the majority of respondents (54 percent) favor scholarships or vouchers for all, irrespective of income levels.  An even larger majority (57 percent) favor ESAs for all families, with no income limit.  Under an ESA, state government provides a set amount to a parent for a child’s education.  That money can be used for a government school, private school, homeschooling, and even college.

Similarly, 58 percent of voters favor the school tuition organization (STO) tax credits, offered for donations to low-income private-school scholarships.  The Iowa Legislature increased the total amount of tax credits available to $12 million, and all were claimed by donors.

The results of this survey are important.  Iowans want to choose the best education for our children, our grandchildren.  And we want all Iowans, not just the wealthy, to have this freedom, this choice.  We believe in self-determination and self-reliance.

Our State Legislators, in the House and the Senate, as well as Governor Branstad, would be well advised to heed the results of this survey and work proactively to provide Iowa families and children with a broader array of educational options.

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  1. It’s hard to accept PII’s views as ‘non-partisan’ when it also admits it is a ‘free-market, limited-government think-tank.’ Just sayin’…

      1. Of course the proportion of ‘free-market, limited government’ folks – at least as PII espouses those ideas – is a LOT smaller in the Democratic camp than the Republican camp. Call themselves what they will, obviously PII leans heavily one direction politically…

      2. Assertions aside, like the PII, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice obviously leans heavily one direction politically. That’s okay, but claims to be ‘non-partisan’ are fairly misleading…

      3. I’m saying that we should be skeptical consumers of data and policy recommendations offered by people who claim to be ‘non-partisan’ but aren’t. It’s one thing to just admit who you are and what you are about; at least we then know how to think about what you’re saying (for instance, I don’t usually agree with you, Shane, but at least you’re upfront about who you are and what you stand for). But when someone tries to hide behind misleading labels, our BS detectors should go on full alert…

      4. I think both groups are up front about who they are. I just think you’re redefining what “non-partisan” means. Even so, the tagline of Caffeinated Thoughts makes it clear where we stand.

        Now back onto the actual subject of the article – where are you on school choice measures?

      5. “We claim to be non-partisan when in actuality all but a small handful of people who agree with us are of one political persuasion.” I think that’s misleading, not ‘up front.’ Just don’t make the claim…

        Me personally on school choice? I’m in favor of some of the innovative charter school models (e.g., New Tech, EdVisions) that have emerged, particularly those that emphasize deeper thinking and greater student agency. I’m skeptical that charter schools are a long-term remedy given that the vast majority do the same as traditional public schools and statistically are twice as likely to be worse than better. I’m extremely wary of some of the crazy charters that are out there that further disadvantage traditionally-disadvantaged student populations and families. I’m very concerned about resegregationist effects of school choice.

        I think the claims of the charter movement are overblown. I think the claims of the voucher movement are overblown. The data don’t stand behind most claims of either of those movements.

        I’m neutral about homeschooling.

  2. I agree with Deborah’s analysis here. My only caution with school choice legislation is that it empowers parental control and comes with as few strings attached as possible. In Indiana and Louisiana we saw a mess with voucher programs tied into Common Core Standards and assessments. That diminishes parental choice not empowers it. If parents wanted Common Core they could keep their kids in public school. Also with charter schools we need to be wary of potential corporatism which, in my opinion, diminishes parental influence, control, and accountability while using public funds. I believe in Iowa we strike the right balance with our STO tax credit program. I like the idea of ESAs and provided there is absolute freedom for parents to determine how that money is spent (for educational purposes) it will also bring about successful reform.

  3. The Public Interest Institute free admits that they are “center-right” leaning. Nevertheless they are non-partisan. Among other things – PII never accepts any government, taxpayer funding. Compare PII to “non-partisan” groups such as the Public Policy group at the University of Iowa – their extensive staff is heavily and specifically Democrat, with no Republican staff members, and funded with taxpayer money. Yet they claim to be non-partisan. PII often critiques Republican supported legislation and policies, at both the state and federal levels.

    1. Yes, I agree that there are lots of other groups also claiming to be ‘non-partisan.’

      Just because you sometimes critique your own doesn’t mean you’re non-partisan. See, e.g., Rush Limbaugh.

Comments are closed.

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