School choice bill feeds negativity and damages public education, opponents say – Newton Daily News

Opponents of the school choice law told MP John Danuel, R-Newton, during an online audition session on Feb. 16, state-funded vouchers designed to enable low- and middle-income families to enroll their children in private schools. are a “marketing scheme” designed to remove taxpayer money from public schools.

Michelle Smith, a Ming resident and chair of the Jasper County Democratic Party, said the concept of choosing a school is already available to families in Iowa. People have a choice of where to live and which school district their children will study in, and they have a choice to open up to another district, she argued.

Parents can also pay for a private school or teach their children at home.

“I think it’s a very great marketing scheme to try to turn over what it really is, and it’s removing taxpayer money from public schools,” Smith said. “I am worried that if this happens, private schools will not meet the standards of public schools. They are not obliged to accept all students. “

For example, if a student has behavioral problems, physical disabilities, or does not meet the academic standards of a private school, Smith said these areas may deny the child. When the legislature approved vouchers – now called educational savings accounts – Smith questioned whether private schools could still deny enrollment.

Smith also carefully examined which private schools would be eligible to participate in the voucher program, asking if Muslim schools or a satanic school could receive public dollars. Daniel later clarified that, as far as he knew, the religious denomination of the school was not a determining factor for its right to receive public funds.

Fran Henderson of Newton also opposes school choice legislation and noted that a number of rural Republicans in the Iowa House do not support the bill, in part because it negatively affects smaller school districts. Daniel confirmed that there is some concern affected by rural schools.

Lawmakers can “dress” the school choice bill as they please, Henderson said, but the proposal still “takes away public school dollars.” And while some Republicans like to call them educational savings accounts, Henderson said it’s still vouchers.

“Public schools are the foundation of our country, and they give everyone the opportunity to get an education,” she said. “And they have to take every child that walks through their door. This is not the same for private schools. If you want to send your child to a private school for religious instruction, this is fine. Pay for it. ”

Patrick Utz, a member of the Colfax-Mingo school board, told Daniel at the audition session that his school district is more struggling with the fact that students are opening admission to larger areas with a higher tax base. For example, he said Colfax-Mingo often have to compete for enrollment with Bondurant-Farrar.

“Rural school districts are different from what you see in the Des Moines metro and we are on the border… I repeat many of the same thoughts as others, if when we are going to do that I want to make sure the rules are the same for other schools, ”Uts said.

Simply put, Utz asked for equal conditions.

At the moment, Daniel has not yet decided on the law on choosing a school, but said he is “seriously interested” in it, in part because of the conversations and debates caused by parents’ frustration last year on school boards and the feeling that administrators do not listen to their complaints.

Newton’s superintendent Tom Mesinger tuned in to the audition session and told Daniel that the legislation comes at a time when school districts are experiencing financial problems. Educational savings accounts or vouchers “will be indirectly withdrawn from the school box office.”

In addition, public schools should provide services to non-public schools. For example, the Newton Community School District provides reading support for Title I Christian School Newton. The districts are also having difficulty finding teachers for vacancies.

“So, at a time when we’re potentially looking for more students in private schools that we need to support, now you’re sharing these services even more – it’s going to be even more difficult to provide those services,” Messinger said.

Messinger also responded to Daniel’s earlier statement that citizens did not feel the administration was listening to them throughout the pandemic. The best thing about this country, he said, is that it operates on a system of elected officials who make decisions for councils, boards and committees.

In the end, Messinger said he doesn’t know of a single school board decision that would be completely enjoyable for everyone.

“To say that’s one reason to do it, for me it’s like telling people that we’ll pass a law that will allow you to take the ball and go home if it goes against the very foundations of our society to ask these elected officials to do it is, ”Messinger said.

It is not the best idea, he added, to pass laws that separate rather than inspire cooperation and figure out how to improve systems. Messinger also suggested that the school choice bill is unfair, noting that public schools have reservations when it comes to how they spend taxpayer dollars.

“(Private schools) do not have the same provisions. We have our hands tied from a variety of fields. And I feel that it undermines public education, ”Messinger said. “I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense to consider options, but as mentioned earlier, we have other options available to people.”

Newton News later contacted other heads of public schools in Jasper County and agreed with Messinger’s sentiments. Colfax-Mingo superintendent Eric Anderson said his main concerns are the different levels of transparency and documentation between public schools and private schools.

Private schools are not required to share student scores, financial data, curriculum, accept all students, etc. Especially given the new impetus for parental involvement … why exacerbate the significant discrepancy in requirements by allocating public funds to private schools, ”Anderson said.

Schools believe the impetus for greater parental involvement is great, Anderson added, but families already have a choice of school. An open entry is available to all students until March 1. But the optics of enabling all children to attend private school can be perceived as another distrust of public education.

“The current political disrespect for teachers is not what I have felt in 28 years of education,” Anderson said. “Throughout the state, school board members and educators suffer swearing, threats of imprisonment and even threats to their lives.

“Legislation that fuels this negativity will not promote public education and will not help children in Iowa.”

Baxter superintendent Mikalin Clapper is also concerned about transparency and standards between the two types of schools and echoes similar views that parents already have a choice of school. Families who are unhappy with how their local area of ​​public schools can open are enrolled elsewhere.

“If they are not satisfied with the way their local district public schools work, they can start enrolling in another public school that is more in line with their needs but which also adheres to the same strict standards by the population because they are funded with public dollars.” said Clapper.

Without transparency, Clapper added, Baxter’s taxpayers have no idea what’s going on with their tax dollars. Therefore, the district holds open meetings and invites the public to join them. That’s why the school is happy to meet with parents and talk about the curriculum, Clapper said.

“We are not trying to hide anything. We want affiliated citizens who see how we use their hard-earned money, ”she said. “I am not against private schools. My own nephew went to one and it was good for him, his family and their valuables, but I am against paying my tax dollars for it. ”

Clapper is unsure whether Baxter will be affected by the school choice bill. Not many students choose to leave the rural district for open enrollment or enroll in private schools. Legislation could potentially benefit the school if part of the rest of the money is given to small areas.

“… But I would rather have the money used in a different way than“ used ”small rural schools to support private schools,” she said. “I would like to see reform in the way open enrollment funding is calculated.”

The formula is calculated in such a way that students who choose to leave their home district still leave behind most of the funding that will be used to help with learning in their new public district, Clapper said.

Anderson is also not sure the bill will affect rural schools. He said Colfax-Mingo is close enough to the subway area that students and families can choose a private school through a voucher.

“In addition, this legislation could encourage other private schools funded by private institutions, both in the state and abroad, to open a new school in an area where there are no other private school options,” Anderson said.

The day after the audition session, Daniel thanked those who participated in the Facebook post. It makes a difference, he said, forming his thoughts and ideas around problems; and it contextualizes discussions, figures, and political philosophies and agendas. Daniel noted that he is still processing the discussion.

“Nothing is final until it goes before the House of Representatives, and I will not vote,” he said later on Facebook. “Until then, the work we are working on together is still unfinished.”

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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