DES MOINES, Iowa — The end of the school year and legislative session draw near and a bill up at the statehouse could fund private school scholarships for students, if passed.
Senate File 2369 passed through the Iowa Senate at the end of March. The bill overall focuses on transparency in education, with one section outlining “Student First Scholarships”.
The bill would allow for 10,000 students a year to switch from public to private schools and receive state dollars for tuition. The scholarships would be for students whose families make up to 400% of the poverty line; and families that are on an individual education program.
This bill has been met with criticism from families and administration of public schools in the state. They want more focus on how to improve public schools, not on something they think will hurt them.
“Coming out of this pandemic, we should be more mindful of how we can support public schools where again, more than 90% of our students in the state are getting their education and getting their services and their meals and their friendships and their sports,” said Ben Graeber, the North High School principal in the Des Moines Public School district.
Graeber feels that teachers have been demonized to a degree and public education is being thought as an afterthought. The concern for metro public schools isn’t dropping attendance numbers, but discouraging teachers further.
A private school principal in the Des Moines area believes that this bill, if passed, would allow under-privileged families the option to send their children to private school.
“I think that bottom line is the dollars follow the students. And I think that brings a lot of peace of mind, especially the inner city, youth, regardless of what it may be, they get to know that, hey, parents get to know that I can choose a particular school,” said Rev. Keith Ratliff, the executive director and principal of Joshua Christian Academy.
Ratliff thinks that parents also need to have the option to choose schools based on what is being taught and how it is being taught; so it fits with the family’s values.
The end date for the 2022 legislative session is on April 19. The week ahead at the statehouse will determine if school vouchers make it through both chambers or if it is shelved until next session.