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Learn along with us as we examine the state of education in Iowa and the various issues it faces today.

Who gets to choose?

Illustration by Josie Fischels

There is a push toward school vouchers and privitizing educationin Iowa, driven in part by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The Republican governor champions private and charter schools for giving Iowa parents more options as to where to send their child to receive an education, especially those who don't agree with the "values" taught in public school curriculum.

The political forces at play

Reynolds has honed her focus on the changes she wants to make to Iowa's schoolsand has already passed a few. She created a second way for charter schools to be created in 2021, which has already allowed for the creation of two new charter schools, and she did away with deadlines for open enrollment in 2022.

Reynolds has stated she wants parents to be the ultimate form of local control, and taxpayer money should fund students, not systems.

To offset the higher cost of private school enrollment, Reynolds has proposed vouchers, or "student-first scholarships" for families who can't afford private school. However, these vouchers did not pass in the House, as Republicans from rural districts are hesitant because there aren't many private schools in rural Iowa. Reynolds intends to continue work on the proposal.

“Parents should have a choice in where they want their students to go, and some of what we’re seeing in education today, not everywhere, there are great schools, great teachers, doing great things out there," Reynolds said in February. "But if you can’t, if it doesn’t reflect your values, then as a parent you should have an option, and it shouldn’t just be for wealthy people that can afford to send their child to the school that they want to.”

Private schools are intended to give parents choice, but the final decision is ultimately up to the school

One prominent argument among those fighting Reynolds' private school push is that private schools are not required by law to provide equal resources for students with special needs.

While Reynolds wants more private and charter schools to give parents more options, private schools ultimately choose which students they teach, and while some do welcome students in need of extra resources, others will not.
In addition, public schools provide many services for private schools, including special education services. Public schools would still have to support special education programming but not get funding that is based on the enrollment of that student.

Deciding factors also come down to who can afford to attend. Tanya Apana, founder and head of Main Street School, a private school in Norwalk, says she often feels like apologizing to parents when she explains that the school's sticker price of tuition is $6,900 a year. One-third of her student population receives scholarship to attend, she says, yet the school has turned families away because they cannot afford tuition.

However, she supports the opening of more private and charter schools like hers.

"I think the more choice we can have for our students, the easier it's going to be for families to find the right fit."

Josie Fischels is a Digital News producer at Iowa Public Radio. She is a 2022 graduate of the University of Iowa’s school of journalism where she also majored in theater arts (and, arguably, minored in the student newspaper, The Daily Iowan). Previously, she interned with the Denver Post in Denver, Colorado, and NPR in Washington, D.C.
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Caitlin Troutman is a talk show producer at Iowa Public Radio
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