The Voucher Thing
They're trying to reform the wrong thing.
Don't get me wrong: this voucher nonsense seems like absolute dog shit that will not give me, as a parent, anything remotely resembling 'choice.' If your kiddo has an IEP or any other special needs, guess what? You don't get a choice. Private schools don't have to take those kids and most, it seems, don't. So while there might not be a lot of us, we're stuck with public schools. We don't get a choice.
Also, it seems like these vouchers come with strings attached. If I'm understanding it right, families can get 'em to pull kids from public school to send to private school, but what if I want to invest in my public school? Doesn't appear like I can do that.
So the idea that 'we should fund students and not systems' is bullshit. You're funding some students and some systems and you're going to impact the quality of my kid's education to do so. Had Kimmie and company come out with some program to help low-income folks access private education, I might be a touch more sympathetic with the notion, but there are no income limits on this at all. If you're richer than four foot up a bull's ass*, you can get free money from the state to send your kid to the school you're sending them to anyway. It doesn't get more kids access to 'quality education', the practical upshot of this is going to mean that private school kids can go to school for free.
The really enraging thing about all this: who the fuck asked for this? They loosened the regulations for charter schools a few years back (in the latter days of Branstad, I think) and we've got a grand total of three charter schools in the state. Not exactly a groundswell of growth here when it comes to charter schools. Something like 93% of students in Iowa goes to public schools and we've got (again, from what I can find on the interwebs,) two hundred and forty private schools of one flavor or another.
None of the alleged arguments for this make a lick of sense. Let's unpack, shall we?
- Teacher's Unions: aren't all that powerful here and when the State GOP gutted public sector unions, they stopped short of repealing Chapter Twenty (I think that's what the law is called) because it makes teacher strikes illegal. (They also carved out exemptions for police, and fire, but not (at the time) corrections or campus police, because you know, reasons.)
- School Boards: are open to the public and always have been as far as I know? I know right-wing media has been up in arms about some shenanigans in Virginia and other states, but nothing similar has been reported here, as far as I know. Also, this bill politicizes school board elections! You're going to have to register with a political party to run. I loathe this with every fiber of my being. You're going to fix your hysterical accusations of politics in the classroom by politicizing school board elections? SUPER. CAN'T WAIT. LOVE THIS.
- The Indoctrination Bullshit: Your kids are going to find out about sex and gender identity no matter the school you send them to. Can we have a talk about how we teach those topics in school and when it's appropriate to do so? Sure, but there are not, and have never been, litterboxes for furries in any school you can name me. If you want to have a serious discussion about curriculum- which is a legit ask, you need to stop believing what you read on the internet. (Also, not teaching about racism in America won't make it go away, and looking at the Civil War through rose-colored glasses doesn't obscure the fact that it was about slavery.)
So, what do you do about it? It's not the funding that needs to be disrupted- at least not in Iowa. Maybe in states with larger populations, a little bit of diversity in the educational marketplace might, maybe, bring about some of what school choice advocates are talking about. (I'm not particularly convinced that it would and I don't think there's strong evidence suggesting that either.) But the problem for Iowa goes back to that finite number of kids. I'm guessing here, but I would assume that any new charter school would need a minimum number of students to be considered viable. If the bulk of these vouchers is benefiting kids that already go to private schools, I don't see how that happens- especially if 93% of kids in Iowa go to public schools. Rural counties were less than thrilled with school consolidations- imagine how excited they're going to be about school closings?
This feels like a giveaway to Kimmie's base. The grumbly, white suburban parents who freak out about things like CRT and believe that if their kids never heard the word 'gay, lesbian or trans' they somehow won't end up gay, lesbian, or trans. I think the reason they want to slam this through as fast as they can is that they think the longer this sits there and the more it dissipates down to the general populace, the less they're going to like it and the more pressure rural Republicans are going to be under. I would be very, very surprised if it arrives on the Governor's desk in its current form because of that reason.
But all of that brings me back around to my first point: they're trying to reform the wrong thing. I think schools, to their credit, are grappling with this already, but if there's one less from the pandemic that we can take away it's that some school districts realized that there's a not-insignificant portion of their students that will absolutely thrive and just fly in an online system while others will crash and burn in that system.
As much as I hate to say anything nice about Common Core math, the principle is sort of replicated there. It's maddening for parents because we were just taught addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. What they (seem) to be aiming for is teaching kids multiple different ways they can use to solve any given math problem.
That's sort of what I'd like to see happen in the education system. Kids learn differently and schools should be climbing all over each other to design learning models that can benefit all kids the most and maximize educational outcomes for everyone. But, here's the rub: take a class of thirty kids- let's say you divide it into six groups of five and each group learns best with a different learning model. How do you teach a class like that? Can you? How do you find the right balance of time during your day to make sure all the kids are getting the right level of instruction? How do you design a system like that?
Well, I'm not an educational expert, but I do know a thing or two about political science and I'd expect it would probably take more money. Carefully targeted amounts of money. With strings attached and qualifications to meet. But money, nevertheless. The better a school district does at developing a multi-modal learning model for all their kids that delivers the results gets more money.
That's what seems to make sense to me, but as we're all learning in these times of nonsense we live in, what's sensible and even fiscally prudent doesn't matter. What pacifies the craziest and noisiest part of your base, does.
*Yes, it's a real expression and yes, I stole it shamelessly from @38Godfrey. I make no apologies.
UPDATE (1/17/23): I found this on a Facebook group, Iowans for Public Education and it contained a response from a Republican State Legislator to his constituents' concerns about the bill:
Thanks very much for reaching out with your thoughts on the Governor's ESA proposal. I hear your concerns, but want to share some other details to think about with this specific proposal.1. This bill makes some changes to the way we count students and results in additional funding being allocated to the public school. Currently, when a kid leaves a public school for private schools the state no longer counts that student anymore and the public school receives no funds. Under this new proposal, students who attend private school will still be counted in the public school's total. $1,205 per student attending private school in the district would be allocated to the public school.2. Also new in this year's proposal is increased flexibility for how school districts can spend their money. Right now, the State earmarks school districts' budgets for specific programs and some of those dollars go unspent. The Governor's proposal will allow school districts to use these unspent funds to increase teachers' salaries.3. House Republicans have a reputation at the Capitol for being very cautious when it comes to the state budget. We do not rush into new government programs or tax cuts without looking well into the future to see if those ideas are viable long term. Iowa's fiscal situation is very strong. Over the last five completed budget years (FY 18-22), actual tax revenue has exceeded state spending by $3.111 billion. With the Governor's school choice proposal, we have done our due diligence and determined that this program can fit within the long-term budget parameters and not impact the ability to fund other state programs like public safety, Medicaid, mental health, and future increases in the school funding formula.For these reasons, this proposal will not just provide parents with education choice, but it will keep our public schools strong. Financially, our state is in a very strong position and I think providing a quality education deserves our investment.Thank you for your email,John H. WillsRepresentativeHouse District 10
In the interests of basic fairness- because this seems to be a remarkably sensible, non-Culture War bullshit, non-hysterical answer about the bill, which I greatly appreciate, I would say this:
- Point 1, I'd like to see how the math shakes out on this. At least public schools would get something out of this deal, which is good (or at minimum, better than nothing), but I'm not sure it will add up to a meaningful replacement funding level over the long term.
- Point 2, seems very sensible indeed. Even if you get rid of everything else, this- especially if unspent funds can be pushed towards staff retention and teacher salaries could be a genuinely good thing. But again, the math. I'd have to see the math.
- Point 3, I'm frankly dubious on because it sure doesn't seem like they're being cautious- but taking this Representative at his word, I'd want to see how much our state's financial picture will change when any COVID aid sunsets or runs out. Again-- the math!