Don’t pay private-school parents from Iowa’s state treasury
A bill to pay parents to send their kids to private school, or to educate them at home, has been introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives.
It would cost the state treasury an estimated $210 million. The money would be available to those parents starting July 1, 2016.
Parents who send their kids to public schools wouldn’t get the money.
By contrast, the House has already passed in this session a bill to increase regular education funding (state supplemental aid, or “allowable growth”) to public schools in the amount of $45 million for the coming fiscal year (2015-16). That’s because the Republican House majority says there isn’t enough money to pay schools more than that.
The $45 million — coupled with another $50 million already approved in 2013 for the ongoing Teacher Leadership Compensation program — amounts to an increase of 1.25 percent above what the state is providing this year to fund K-12 public school state supplemental aid.
At a level that low, half of the state’s public schools would need to use the “budget guarantee,” funded entirely by a property tax increase in their school district, to pay their increased expenses for 2015-16.
What’s wrong with this picture?
They can’t have it both ways.
The state can’t pay $210 million to support non-public education if there isn’t enough money to pay more than $45 million in new public school aid.
The windfall for parents of home-schooled and private-schooled children, proposed in the House File 313 bill (H.F. 313), would come in the form of an education grant of some $6,300 per non-public school student.
That’s an amount equal to the per-pupil cost that the state pays to public school districts — but not to the parents of public school students.
Parents would have to spend the private education grants for expenses for private or home schools. The grants would be exempt from state income taxes.
Under H.F. 313, if you have two kids you’re teaching at home or sending to a private school, your grants would total $12,600 ($6,300 times two).
If you send your kids to your local public school, your grant amount under H.F. 313 is zero.
But to add insult to injury, if the 1.25 percent increase in state supplemental aid approved by the House were to make it through the Senate and be signed by the governor, and if your school district is in the 50 percent for which an increase that small isn’t sufficient, your property taxes would also go up when your district’s budget guarantee kicks in.
A key legislative leader told me last week that H.F. 313 would destroy public education in Iowa, and also that it will not become law.
The bill has little chance of making it through the Iowa Senate, where Democrats retain a majority.
It also may not make it through the House, where it originated. Wiser heads may prevail there.
Republicans generally are budget-conscious, and they’ve already said there’s very little money available for new or increased programs next fiscal year.
If so, that would certainly be the case for a new $210 million education grant program.
But the disturbing conclusion to be drawn from the combination of the 1.25 percent state supplemental aid measure and the proposal envisioned in H.F. 313 is that a significant percentage of legislators — those who vote for both measures — has such low regard for K-12 public schools.
At a time when Iowa struggles to reclaim its nationwide leadership position in education, voters need to hold their representatives to a higher standard.