Commentary

Here’s why this Iowa parent supports educational savings accounts for private schools

December 10, 2022 8:00 am

Gov. Kim Reynolds accepts an award from St. Theresa Catholic School Principal Ellen Stemler on Feb. 15, 2022 during a visit to the Des Moines school. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

We’re nearly three years past the start of the COVID pandemic and life is returning to pre-pandemic times, except for one area — education. Parents got an unprecedented opportunity for an up-close view into the education their children were being provided. Awareness brought about an increased demand from parents for more educational options for their kids, demand that has only grown over time.

In Iowa, we are fortunate to have a governor and legislators who are intent on offering those parents more options.   Gov. Kim Reynolds fought hard for her Student First Scholarship program this year. School choice supporters are hopeful that a bill for an even more robust Education Savings Account will be presented during the 2023 session.

Education Savings Accounts give parents control over education spending for their children. A portion of state funds are deposited into an individual account that parents use for qualified education expenses for their child. Under last session’s proposal, up to 10,000 income-qualified transfer students could use up to $5,400 in an ESA, which is considerably less than the over $7,000 the state would spend educating each of those children in the public school system.

Last session, like every session, Iowa public schools received an increase in state funding. Iowa’s public-school districts also receive funding from property taxes and local levies, as well as federal funding, which are not mainly (or all) based on enrollment numbers.

Opponents to school choice make many assertions that are an insult to the public-school districts they are supporting. Opponents argue that if an ESA takes effect there will be a mass exodus from public schools. This assumes that every parent would leave the public school if given the opportunity — not a vote of confidence in public schools. We also hear that ESAs are harmful to rural districts with enrollment so small that if even three students transferred, the school district could not survive.  That enrollment decrease could happen if just one family moved away; are we to believe that rural districts are that close to financial ruin?

Another common argument against ESAs is that not all Iowa counties have a nonpublic school available so no one should be given the opportunity for an ESA. School choice could be made available to all Iowa families, including those where there is no nonpublic school. In that situation, a virtual school or homeschool environment might be a choice parents would welcome. ESAs could be crafted to give all parents options they need for their kids.

The focus of school choice opponents is on schools and institutions, but this issue isn’t really about schools at all.   This is about families. This is about parents needing something different for their children, desperate for a change, seeking an option that will meet their child’s needs and equip them for future success.

With an Education Savings Account, funding doesn’t go to a school – it goes to a parent so they can make qualified choices for their child.  If a current school is not working for a child, why would we want to keep them there? Why would we make a child wait for things to improve where they are?

If we have an Education Savings Account program, some parents will use it to make a different choice for their child who needs it. Let’s use our tax dollars to give the most opportunities to the most children, no matter how or where they are educated.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Trish Wilger
Trish Wilger

Trish Wilger is the executive director of the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.

MORE FROM AUTHOR