Bill on public funds for private education advances

Wed, March 6, 2019 @ 12:00 am


A bill that would allow public funds -- traditionally used for public schools -- to be used for students to attend private schools advanced Wednesday in the Republican-led state Senate.

The Senate Education Committee voted 8-7 for Senate File 372, a measure that would give parents taxpayer-funded grants to send their child to a private school of their choice.

The original bill would have opened taxpayer grants to all students, but it was significantly pared down Wednesday. Lawmakers amended the legislation to limit grants to students with Individualized Education Programs or 504 Plans, which usually cater to students with special needs.

"This bill empowers parents," said Sen. Jerry Behn, a Republican from Boone who sponsored the legislation. "It's a way to prove that it works. If you take some of the most difficult children to work with and start with that, if it works with that, it ought to be easy to move on."

At least 60,000 students would qualify for the $4,000 to $5,000 yearly grants, the Republican lawmaker said. Behn argued that would spur competition and save Iowa money, as the payments would represent 87 percent of what the state already spends to send children to public schools.

If the program succeeds, he said he'd like to open it to all students. "I think it really does open the door," Behn said.

But opponents, such as Democratic Sen. Claire Celsi, of West Des Moines, said the proposal is a "fundamental rewriting of the way we do public education" in the state.

"Public dollars should not be used for private schools in any way, shape or form," Celsi said.

Republicans said they are avoiding the term vouchers, since the money would go to parents instead of schools, but Democrats argue they are vouchers by another name with the same end result.

Two Republicans voted against the bill Wednesday. Behn said he was unsure if there was enough support from both chambers and from the governor. It wasn't clear when the bill will reach the full Senate.

Click Here to read the entire article written by Chris Grothner.