Iowa Legislature passes historic school reform providing same amount of state funding for private school scholarships as to government schools

Last night, the Iowa Legislature took a giant step toward school choice for state's children, passing a bill that Republican governor Kim Reynolds has long sought.  The national media such as the New York Times so far are ignoring it, but The Des Moines Register reports:

The bill, House File 68, would phase in over three years and eventually allow all Iowa families to use up to $7,598 a year in an "education savings account" for private school tuition.

If any money is left over after tuition and fees, families could use the funds for specific educational expenses, including textbooks, tutoring, standardized testing fees, online education programs and vocational and life skills training.

That sum is equal to the money the state provides per pupil to government schools.  Of course, local governments add funding of their own, so full equality in funding for private and government school is not yet at hand.  But in theory, there is nothing, save the political power of teachers' unions and government school bureaucrats, preventing localities from adopting similar measures and ushering in an era of true market-based competition between private and government schools, allowing parents to choose the schools they believe best serve their children.  If resources can be provided for successful campaigns to provide local funding on this basis, the nation would have its first demonstration project of true school choice.

Iowa State Capitol (photo credit: Tony Fischer, CC BY 2.0 license).

Naturally, the same old tired arguments are being dragged out against the measure:

"Spending public money with no accountability is reckless. Our public schools and students deserve better," said Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids. 

Senator Donahue somehow does not regard the ability of parents to pull their children out of a private school they find unsatisfactory as a form of accountability.  But that is far more accountability than government schools face.  

Opponents argued that using state money to pay for students to attend private schools will perpetuate inequity in Iowa's education system since private schools can choose which students to accept and aren't held to the same standard of transparency as public schools.

The current government schools that fail minority children dismayingly often are hardly diminishing inequality.  Private schools that have the freedom to innovate can meet the needs of at-risk children, and allowing parents the freedom to pick a school suited to the particular needs of their children is a better recipe for success than the one-size-fits-all approach of heavily bureaucratized government schools.

Governor Reynolds is guaranteed to sign the bill, and Iowa will soon lead the nation in educational reform.  Expect the media to either ignore or criticize the measure.

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