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Opinion: the public school crisis

Iowa public schools are falling apart, and there is only one thing to blame – our government.
Two thirds of of students who received a private school voucher in Iowa were already enrolled in private schools, according to new data from the Iowa Department of Education.
Madelyn Johnson
Two thirds of of students who received a private school voucher in Iowa were already enrolled in private schools, according to new data from the Iowa Department of Education.

Dear Iowa government,
Hands off of our public schools.
Iowa public schools are in a crisis. Every harmful piece of legislation that gets passed, every time funding gets cut, we watch our public school system slowly fall into a state of disrepair. Soon, we will be past the point of no return.
Historically, Iowa has been known for excellence in education. In the 1990s, Iowa was continuously ranked in the top five in the country, with equally high rankings in test scores. In a 2023 World News Report, Iowa barely made the top half of the list, coming in at 24th in the nation.
Iowa test scores are still relatively high, in comparison to the rest of the country. So why are our educational rankings so low? This answer comes down to our government leaders.
On Jan. 24, 2023, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, surrounded by private school students, signed a bill into law called the “Schools Choice” law. This law states that any Iowa family can use taxpayer dollars to send their children to private schools. This is a massive blow for Iowa public schools, taking away almost $345 million dollars annually from their state funding.
At first glance, this law seems harmless. Why not give parents the option to send their kids to a private school? Looking deeper, we quickly start to see flaws. The voucher system takes away funding from smaller schools and benefits the people who can already afford to go to private schools. Until Iowa is able to provide adequate funding from the State, we should not be creating an exclusive entitlement program with unlimited funding. In the short time that vouchers have been available, more than two-thirds of those vouchers have been given to students who were already enrolled in private schools, according to new data from the Iowa Department of Education. The voucher system is devastating for Iowa public schools, due to massive budget cuts that school districts will have to implement in response to the lack of state funding.
It was announced at the beginning of the 2023 school year that the Iowa City School District (ICCSD) would be forced to eliminate funding due to budget cuts. While it isn’t explicitly stated that the voucher system was the cause, it can be assumed that it played a role in the decision, and will continue to play a role in budget cuts as we move forward.
The voucher bill isn’t the only piece of harmful legislation Reynolds has proposed. Last month, Reynolds proposed a bill that would eliminate the AEAs in the state of Iowa. AEA (Area Education Agencies) is a group of nine agencies across the state of Iowa that work with public schools to ensure that all children receive the education that they need. The AEAs provide special education services, along with anything else a child might need to further their education. Since the start of the AEAs in 1974, these programs have provided families with life-changing services. The removal of these AEAs would cause families and schools to seek these services through private practices. These private providers are expensive, and out of reach for many families and school districts.
Fortunately, due to a massive amount of backlash from Reynold’s colleagues and the public, the bill was receded, and amendments are currently being made. But, the sentiment stays the same. Our government doesn’t want to see public schools succeed.
As students, we see the destruction happening to our education system. Iowans are watching as our teachers are quitting and going into other fields, due to the poor salaries and working conditions. We are witnessing our classmates suffer as they deal with the repercussions of the damaging laws being passed at the state level.
While it isn’t students’ fault that detrimental legislation is being passed, harming our public schools, it has fallen on us to fix things. It is our responsibility to take measures and save our schools. Iowa public schools have suffered enough, and it is time to rehabilitate our education system in the state of Iowa. Public schools aren’t the problem. Teachers aren’t the problem. Students aren’t the problem. The problem is our government is working tirelessly to pass harmful legislation in our public schools.

This story was originally published on The Live Wire on February 6, 2024.

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