Legislators, admin react to SFC law
Area superintendents and elected officials are reacting to the passing of the Students First Act.
The legislation was a priority for passage by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and was signed into law on Jan. 24.
Under the new legislation, $7,598 will be deposited annually to an educational savings account for students attending private schools. $1,205 per student attending private schools in the district would be allocated to the public school. The bill passed the Iowa House late in the evening Jan. 23, without the support of District 18 Representative Tom Moore, who serves Red Oak and Montgomery County.
In the wake of the bill’s passing, some of the area superintendents weighed in, including Red Oak Superintendent Ron Lorenz, who authored a lengthy letter to the editor speaking against the bill prior to its passage in the legislature. Now that the bill has been signed into law, Lorenz’ stance has not changed.
“I was very disappointed in the decision, but all we can do now is pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and get back to work,” Lorenz said.
According to Lorenz, his district and others would soon be feeling the financial pinch now that the bill is a law.
“This decision is going to have far reaching financial implications on Iowa’s public schools, so we have to start figuring out ways to do more with even less,” commented Lorenz.
Lorenz added the district is now in a holding pattern to see what its next steps will be.
“At this point, we are waiting to hear more details, particularly with respect to added flexibility in the use of categorical funds,” Lorenz stated.
Griswold superintendent David Heinrichs also expressed his disappointment in the quick passage of the bill, and what it will mean to public schools.
“I have a difficult time understanding how it is acceptable to use public funds for an education at a private school. I have much appreciation for Tom Moore and Tom Shipley who did not vote the party line on this matter. It is anticipated that the first year cost of this program is around $106 million dollars. These funds would have gone a long way, if used for public schools, to better ensure our staff members are paid at a level they deserve,” Heinrichs advised.
Heinrichs also stated that he wasn’t anticipating a huge impact on the Griswold District in the immediate future.
“I do not anticipate an immediate effect on our district due to the fact that there are a very limited number of private schools in our area. However, with the passing of the bill, and with the Governor’s recommended increase in SSA of only 2.5%, I am very concerned about the lack of adequate funding for public schools. The financial future of public school may be very challenging in the years to come,” said Heinrichs.
Heinrichs said he and the other staff of the district are now planning ahead for the future with what is available.
“The best thing we can do now is to utilize the funds that we have to the best of our ability to ensure we provide the best education to our students as possible,” Heinrichs commented.
As for Essex superintendent Mike Wells, the passage of the bill came as no surprise to him, since Gov. Reynolds has been pushing for a choice bill for the last three years.
“I think we were all anticipating the passage of the law. When I came to the state from Nebraska, Iowa had one of the highest per pupil expenditures in the country and as a result we ranked in the top five states in educational rankings. Since that time, the funding has consistently fallen behind the rest of the nation, and we have received years of 0% growth and average about 2% per year,” explained Wells. “Today, we are ranked 18th in the nation for education. As a result of the voucher bill passing, I anticipate we will see a rash of “for profit” schools popping up across the state and public education will be harmed. I also believe in the cities such as Waterloo, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids, you will see flight into private schools which will cause more inner city issues. These “for profits” will be able to refuse students who have special needs, and will be operating under different rules so their expenditures will be less.”
Still, Wells said at this point, he’s not focusing on anything but doing what needs to be done.
“Unfortunately, the bottom line is that it’s the law so we need to suck it up and not whine about it. We will continue to provide a quality education for all students who choose to come to our public schools. Iowa public schools have always been the backbone of our great state, and when push comes to shove, it will still be what makes our state prosper,” Wells stated. “I appreciate David Sieck having the guts to stand up to his own party and vote against vouchers. He has kept his campaign promises, and I am so proud to have him representing my district.”
Comments from superintendents Chris Fenster of Southwest Valley, and Tim Hood of East Mills were not available as of press time.
Area superintendents weren’t the only ones who expressed dissatisfaction with the passing of the bill. Iowa House District 18 Representative Tom Moore of Griswold was one of a handful of legislators who voted against passing the bill. Moore said he had many concerns about the effect of this legislation on the public schools and especially local rural schools.
“As a fiscal conservative, I question the spending of millions of dollars on a few who a already paying their private school tuition. Although the bill prohibits government intrusion into the autonomy of the private school I have reservation on once the money starts to flow what strings will be attached. But of highest importance was the overwhelming opposition by my constituents,” Moore said
Iowa District 9 Senator Tom Shipley also voted against advancing the bill out of the Iowa Senate, citing the concerns of numerous constituents.
“I heard from hundreds-literally- about this and the vast majority were against it. I have concerns about the long-term cost and it being open to every student in a few years. Some families need help when they feel trapped in a less than satisfactory situation. But some families don’t need any help and usually are already choosing something other than the public school. Out here choices are slim to none and the concern is that money needed for schools out here in rural Iowa are going to be going to where the majority of private schools are -suburban Iowa,” advised Shipley.
One former legislator who represented Montgomery County before last year’s redistricting was a yes vote to the bill: Iowa District 8 Senator Mark Costello, who said he was happy to approve the legislation.
“School choice has been a priority for this caucus for many years. We have consistently shown dedication to Iowa parents, Iowa students, and a quality education to prepare them for a successful future. The Students First Act not only allows all families to choose their education path, but also allows public schools flexibility when allocating money including raising teacher salaries with unused funds,” stated Costello. “Additionally, this week was also School Choice Week in our state. Watching the bill be signed by Governor Reynolds during this time was a special moment.”