LEE COUNTY - A suggestion from a Fort Madison School board member became a reality Thursday when the three public school district superintendents in Lee County issued a joint statement in opposition to the Governor's School Choice legislation.
The legislation provides educational savings accounts (ESAs) that would provide up to $7,598 per student per year in scholarships that can be used toward tuition at the state's private schools. The first two years income restrictions would be placed on families based on poverty guidelines, but starting the third year, there would be no income restrictions.
Mio Santiago made the suggestion for the joint statement at Monday night's FMCSD board meeting encouraging the three district heads to state with one voice that the governor's proposed legislation will be detrimental to all three districts.
That letter was sent Thursday to state Rep. Martin Graber (R-Fort Madison) in opposition to Senate Study Bill (SSB) 1022.
The content of the letter is printed below in its entirety, and addresses how the bill will shrink programming at public schools because of the loss of dollars flowing in.
The proposed bill could cost as much as $300 million the first year, according to data from the governor's office, and as much as $900 million over four years.
"Public schools represent the biggest contributors to a community's growth and vitality. Eroding the framework in our rural communities by diverting dollars to private schools will have a detrimental effect on the very foundation that provides our communities with economic growth and development. If you support this bill, you will be shortchanging our children and our families by essentially defunding programs, as cuts will be forced upon our schools due to decreased funding and reduced enrollment.
As you are aware, Iowa's public school funding formula is based on enrollment. Fewer students compounded with less funding equates to fewer resources for the majority of children who are educated in Lee County's public schools.
Iowa public schools educate more than 90 percent of the children in our state. In total, our three districts had a certified enrollment of more than 4,700 students this year. This is the number of students you would be impacting in a negative way by supporting SSB 1022.
For the past decade, Iowa public schools have lagged behind neighboring states when it comes to funding. This important funding is needed to continue to make teacher pay competitive, meet ongoing expenditures (utilities, books, etc.), and make new investments in our schools to increase opportunities for students. This new system of vouchers would diminish the dollars available for public schools, while also reducing our enrollment. While the current bill provides minimal funding for public schools for enrolled private school students, it will do nothing to improve opportunities for our current students.
The public education system is built to improve outcomes for all students, for the betterment of society as a whole. Every student who enters our school is welcomed and receives critical services. We never turn students away because of their race, color, socioeconomic status, or any other factor. We will continue to serve ALL students, while private schools will be able to pick and choose who they serve.
Thank you for representing Lee County at the state capital. Rural Iowa and Lee County have significant needs, requiring Investment from our state. We hope you will prioritize these county needs over sending $300 million into Polk, Linn, and Johnson counties. After all, the voucher plan does nothing to help rural Iowans.
Dr. Andy Crozier Superintendent Central Lee
Dr. Dan Mart Superintendent Keokuk
Dr. Erin Slater Superintendent Fort Madison
Crozier has also been on social media saying the legislature has been speaking out of both sides of their mouth.
"Legislators told public education they didn't have the funding to provide higher increases in the past. They did. Now they magically have the funding to provide a government handout to Iowa's most affluent families. This is essentially a tax cut for the 1%" he posted on Twitter Wednesday.
The bill is quickly moving through the legislature and Reynolds issued a statement on the progress Thursday.
“This is just the first step in giving educational freedom to Iowa’s students and parents. For too long government has told parents when, how, and where their kids can receive an education. It’s time for the government to get out of the way and allow parents the freedom of choice in education," Reynolds said.
“It is not shocking to see the same special interest groups who tried to lock our students out of their classrooms advocating against this bill. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now."
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