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Monday, February 27, 2017

A bill for Education Savings Accounts is illogical in Iowa

As a public school superintendent you probably already know I am opposed to shifting public dollars to private schools or home schoolers.  Let me give you some reasons that as a voter you'll also find good reasons to oppose ESA's.

First of all is this recent Iowa Poll:  http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2017/02/26/iowa-poll-majority-oppose-using-public-funds-private-school/97996574/?mc_cid=16f84b47f9&mc_eid=5272d8f81d  58% of Iowans are opposed to public money for private schools.  I believe that is largely because we do not have the problems of the very large urban areas across the nation.  Some states do suffer from over reach by their teacher unions, or the lack of quality instruction that creates poor behaviors and many dropouts.  Iowa leads the nation in graduation rate (91%) and so this should be the last place where the Voucher or school choice movement should get a foothold.

Research shows that Education Savings Accounts will do little for any poor rural Iowa students. Most likely because they are not geographically accessible in most of rural Iowa. But also because the students who attend private schools may be paying more than the voucher is worth, and poor folks won't be able to make up that difference. The bill proposed in Iowa would send $200 million to the same people who already send their kids to private schools, not spreading the opportunity to the poor or unqualified students. This movement has been called an effort to re-segregate our schools, sorting students by income level.  In a year when there is no more than $40 Million to increase the investment in 480,000 Iowa public students, spending $200 Million on 33,000 private school students is no way to provide for long term prosperity of all.

There is a myth that gets repeated constantly by people like Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence.  It is the myth of public school failure based on international comparisons on test scores like the Program for International Student Assessment, PISA.  U.S. Public Schools are said to be failing millions of kids who can’t afford to attend a private school. This movement likes to tug on your heart strings with, “If only those poor kids could get out of those terrible public schools they could be saved.”  That is simply not the case. For an explanation of PISA scores in U.S. and abroad read http://wapo.st/2l3V2BL.

The reason U.S. public schools don't look good is because we educate all of our students. When you compare U.S. schools to places like Finland or Singapore or China’s Beijing schools and adjust for poverty levels, the U.S. public schools come out on top. (http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html). In reality, of all of those international tests from other countries or city states, none tests all of their students because they typically do not educate all students like the U.S. does.  These international test comparisons are from the students qualifying or somehow earning the right to be educated in their home country.

For those reasons, I believe Education Savings Accounts are not right for Iowa, Not right for this year and not right for our nation.  If we continue to work on improving our public schools and address the issues of poverty, our students would shine no matter where they went to school.

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