Jan 23, 2023 - Politics

Lessons for Iowa's private schools, public cash proposal

Illustration of a red apple with a hundred dollar bill for a leaf. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Iowa lawmakers could pass a bill allowing parents to apply the state's $7,598 per-student allocation to private schools as early as this week.

  • It'll cost the state $341 million a year when fully implemented, according to estimates from Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Why it matters: About half of all states already have some form of a student voucher program.

  • Iowa can learn from the experiences of other states, Joshua Cowen told Axios. He's an education professor at Michigan State University who has studied the programs for about two decades.

Here are three issues Cowen cautioned about and how Iowa addresses the issues in the current proposal.

Student equity

Policies to help parents report and the state to investigate allegations of unfair admission practices should be established to help avoid situations like in Indiana where dozens of schools don't welcome LGBTQ kids.

  • Iowa's bill: Private schools would not have to change their admission programs to qualify for the state's money.
Performance reporting

Schools should be held to the same level of educational accountability and transparency.

  • Iowa's bill: Private school students would have to take all required assessments and their overall outcomes would be reported annually by the state.
Fraud protection

Regulatory oversight should be clear to avoid misspending — like in Arizona when a 2018 audit found more than $700K was spent on things like beauty supplies and apparel by voucher recipients.

  • Iowa's bill: Suspected cases of fraud would be reported to the Iowa attorney general for investigation.

The other side: Problems like those cited by Cowen are relatively isolated and Iowa's bill is already crafted to handle them, Corey DeAngelis, the national director of the American Federation for Children, told Axios.

  • Multiple studies show better overall outcomes for students, like improved test scores and higher college enrollment according to the federation's website.
  • The group, based in Washington, D.C., is lobbying for the bill.
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