Dubuque Community School District expresses disapproval of Iowa school voucher program

The bill is pending passage in the House and a signature from Governor Reynolds
Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 9:10 PM CST
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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The Iowa Senate approved a bill Thursday night allowing some students to use state funds to enroll in private education.

Passage in the House and a signature from Governor Kim Reynolds would create a school voucher program.

Governor Reynolds had mentioned the program would only impact students in about 32 schools the federal government says are ‘failing’.

Stan Rheingans, the Dubuque Community School District’s superintendent, said he is not against school choice, but against the voucher program, which could divert some money away from public schools to private schools.

“I just get concerned when public funds start to go to private schools and we feel like we have been under funded for the last decade or so,” he said. “And so to now begin the process of potentially spending money on private schools just does not seem like it is the time for that.”

Rheingans said some are under the impression the bill would allow parents to move students to whatever school they choose to, but he said this is not the case.

“A private school would still maintain its ability to pick and choose which students it lets in, or which students, if they are having academic or behavioral issues, if you know this is not a good fit, go back to the public school,” he explained.

The Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank focused on education, did a longitudinal study on Ohio, the only other state with a voucher program similar to the one Iowa is considering. Ohio’s program, called EdChoice Scholarship, is also restricted to students from low performing schools. The study found, “the students who use vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state exams when compared to their closely matched peers remaining in public schools.”

In response to that study, in an interview last week with TV9, Reynolds said, “I bet I could go find some research that would counter that. We did a lot of research when we did this.”

Rheingans said his other big issue with the voucher program, which is being referenced as Student First Scholarships, is a lack of accountability since private schools are not held to the same public standards as public schools.

“Last night we had a public work session, board session to talk about the budget, where our expenses are going and some changes for the future and that is all done; media is there if they choose to the public can view it,” he mentioned. “You know in a private institution that does not happen, so we have to make sure, if public funds are used, the public has the right to know how those funds are spent; those are the rules and regulations that we follow and I would assume that any private institution accepting public funds would need to follow those rules as well.”

Governor Reynolds defended the voucher plan in her interview with TV9. She said families with children in those under-performing schools do not always have the financial means to send their students to private school, and this would be a way to address that problem.

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