Public money for public schools

As the voucher bill has stalled so far this session, majority party lawmakers in the Iowa House are trying a different tactic to shift money out of public schools through a big expansion of Iowa’s charter school law.

Charter schools are funded with public tax dollars, but are generally subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional public schools.

While Iowa does already have a few charter schools, the bill approved by Republicans last week would make it easier to set up charter schools and take away millions from public schools. 

It’s worth noting that Iowa’s public schools already have innovation and flexibility to improve student learning through our current charter school law. In visiting with the local school leaders in my rural district, it became clear to me there was little support for the bill outside of the special interest groups running the show at the State Capitol this year.  

There are several reasons why I believe this bill isn’t good for Iowa kids.

First, I am a firm believer that public money should be for public schools. Allowing the creation of charter schools, funded with millions of our public tax dollars without the same transparency requirements as our public schools, is bad policy. 

Second, these new charter schools would operate with no accountability to elected school boards or local constituents. The schools could be established by a group with no ties to the local community and without the consent from a school board. 

Finally, the research nationwide on charter schools shows these schools have failed to live up to the high standards and expectations Iowa parents expect today. 

In the end, the new law just further stresses our already underfunded rural schools by siphoning away critical resources. 

This bill is unfortunately just the latest in a string of bills this session being worked on by the governor and majority party lawmakers that have negative consequences for our public schools. 

As I’ve said from the opening day of session, we should be working together to make sure public schools have the tools and resources to help kids make up for lost time in the classroom during the pandemic.

The good news we got last week is that President Biden is sending $775 million directly to Iowa schools from the American Rescue Plan for COVID relief and recovery. Those resources can be used over the next few years for schools to get kids back on track in the classroom.

It’s the investment our kids need and deserve.

State Rep. Todd Prichard, of Charles City, is the Iowa House Democratic Leader.

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