Public Dollars and Private Education

Amish Boys Near Kalona by John Zielinski. Photo Credit – Life Magazine Oct. 24, 1969

The Iowa Republican argument for spending $53 million dollars to support private schools and home schooling programs during the 2017-2018 school year is giving parents options.

“There’s been a trend to slowly put some dollars towards people who are choosing different options,” state Rep. Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls) said in a July 18 article in the Iowa City Press Citizen. “I would say that’s a good thing. We want to give as many options for parents and students as we possibly can.”

Rogers is chair of the Iowa House education committee which has overseen spending half a billion state dollars for private schooling since 2008.

This annual expenditure should be on the budgetary chopping block.

It is important that children are not left behind in society. For a long time state government helped private education efforts with tuition and textbook tax credits, busing, teaching assistance, and access to extra-curricular activities for home schooled children. Some of that should continue, although $53 million per year seems like too much given the lean fiscal diet forced on public schools.

When I attended parochial grade and high schools I believed the Catholic parish to which our family belonged made the contributions that paid all school expenses. I came up in the late 1950s and 1960s and contributing to the schools was a regular topic at Sunday Mass. The main way I recall government contributing was in donating surplus food to our school lunch program. There may have been other contributions, but we felt we were on our own. That’s a reality of starting and running a private school.

When I think of home schooling I recall the conflict between Iowa officials and the Amish community near Kalona over children attending public schools. National news outlets covered the story in the 1960s, and eventually the Amish community retained control over the process. Home schooling has changed since then and a lot more people and communities want to home school or encourage it.

This budget debate is not about options. Generating options is not state government’s role. The financial assistance to private and home schools by government has been on autopilot since the 1960s and created a process that obscures the lines between public and private education when it comes to public financial contributions to private schools and home schools. While contributing more state dollars to education than ever, government is under funding public schools, not even keeping up with the cost of inflation. Something’s got to give. It should be private schools rather than forcing public school teacher layoffs and school consolidation.

I don’t presume to have the answer, except to elect a Democratic Iowa House to buffer against the worst parts of the Republican agenda regarding private and home schooling. What we are doing now isn’t working. It is time for change.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa

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