Common Good Iowa

Vouchers undermine Iowa’s long-standing commitment to adequately funded, quality public schools for every child

Posted on 03/08/2022 at 02:00 PM by Kelli Soyer

Kelli Soyer is a senior policy advocate at Common Good Iowa. She spoke against the school voucher bill, HSB 672, at a House Appropriations subcommittee on March 8, 2022. Her testimony was drawn from this prepared statement. 

Good afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to share comments on HSB 672, the latest attempt to divert public money to private schools through a voucher system. My name is Kelli Soyer and I am a Senior Policy Advocate with Common Good Iowa. I am also a parent of a child in the public school system and a member of a local public school board. Common Good Iowa opposes HSB 672.

This legislation undermines Iowa’s long-standing commitment to the principle that adequately funded, quality public schools give every student an equal chance in life, no matter their race or their ZIP code.

In the name of “transparency” this legislation obscures the vision of public schools to meet the needs of every student. It panders to emotional, narrow and uninformed attacks upon professional educators for whom transparency and openness already are required. Our schools must offer our students an environment to explore and understand a world of diverse cultures and rich — if often unpleasant — history. Shielding students from these realities will not prepare them to achieve and lead in the real world. This bill will suppress critical thinking and challenging discussion. It will deny our students opportunity.

Oddly, little if any transparency is required of private school use of public dollars. Taxpayers deserve to know how every dollar is spent, just as they do with public schools.

Vouchers are bad policy. If they were not, legislators would not be afraid of the term. And the so-called scholarships in this bill really are just vouchers. This bill does nothing more than divert public dollars and control to private entities.

These diversions:

  • Fundamentally change — and jeopardize — Iowa’s long-standing commitment to free universal public education and equal opportunity.

  • Reduce accountability as private schools would take public dollars but have no requirement to accept students they do not want to serve.

  • Hasten further racial segregation and undermine the sense of community that starts in our schools.

  • Rush to make costly changes before seeing the impact of recent legislative decisions to expand charter schools and undo Iowa’s Voluntary Diversity Plans.

  • Make it more difficult for those schools to serve students in every neighborhood in the state — disproportionally hurting schools in Black and brown communities where lost dollars will force administrators to cut corners.

  • Make taxpayer-funded incentives for private education available only to students who live near them, blocking access to students of all races in many rural areas.

  • Ignore Iowa’s already generous contributions to private schools worth between $65 million and $90 million a year.

Choice is not an issue in Iowa and never has been. Parents already may select a private school, homeschool, or open enroll to another district. Asking other parents and taxpayers to pay for it, while harming their local public schools, is really what is happening with this misguided legislation.

I ask, what is your goal of this legislation and how will you measure whether or not you are accomplishing the outcome? If it is not to improve student outcomes for our kids and only to allow adults a choice, then I question whether the taxpayers of Iowa are getting a return on their investment.

Categories: PK-12 schools

Tagged As: Equity, Schools, Vouchers

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