Fact Checker: Iowa’s voucher bill doesn’t add transparency rules for private schools | SehndeWeb

Liz Mathis, State Senator and Democratic candidate for the United States House of Representatives, speaks during a Democratic campaign event for gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids on Sunday, February 20 2022. (Amir Prellberg/Freelancer)

Iowa lawmakers are once again stirring up debate before adjourning the 2022 legislative session over Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to spend taxpayer money on private school tuition assistance.

State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, a candidate to unseat Republican U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson in Iowa’s new 2nd District, tweeted March 31 criticizing the bill, Senate File 2369.

The legislation provides public funding of about $55 million for 10,000 scholarships of about $5,500 each. These “Student First” scholarships would be awarded to middle- and low-income families of public school students who wish to attend a private school instead.

Mathis posted:

“The people of Iowa think public money should fund public schools, but the Rs in the state senate passed a bill that:

  • Diverts $76 million from public schools where 93% of Iowans are educated
  • Undermines underfunded rural schools
  • Requires 0 transparency from private schools receiving funds”

Analysis

Mathis’ second statement about the bill “undermining” rural schools is subjective, so the fact-checker’s analysis will focus on the first and third allegations.

Regarding the first claim, that the bill “diverts $76 (million) from public schools where 93% of Iowans are educated,” Mathis’ campaign team said it used a $76 million estimate from a Twitter post from the Iowa State Education Association.

A memo assessing the bill’s fiscal impact, prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency, estimates the bill will result in a $79.1 million decrease in the state’s general fund for the fiscal year. 2024, because 10,000 students – those chosen to receive the scholarships – will no longer be counted. in public school education.

According to the Iowa Department of Education, there are 485,630 students enrolled in public schools in the 2021-2022 school year, and enrollment in nonpublic schools totals 33,597 students.

Enrollment in private schools represents almost 6.5% of total enrolment.

Mathis used the most conservative estimate on the decline in public school funding, but the numbers aren’t far off. She was right about the registration data. Grade: A

We will now examine the other claim that the bill “requires 0 transparency from private schools that receive funds.”

Mathis and his opponents argue that there is limited transparency about whether public funds are spent effectively because public schools are required to meet specific standards and reporting requirements, unlike private schools. Private schools must always be accredited by the Iowa Department of Education.

Mathis’ campaign team pointed to wording in the bill’s text stating that it “shall not be construed as extending the power to the state or any political subdivision of the state to impose regulations on any non-public school that does not need to be implemented”. the Student First Scholarship Program.

The legislation contains a charter of rights for parents or guardians. This section states that parents have the right to access and review information about their child’s program, the educational materials used, and the process for removing books from libraries.

In addition, under the proposal, parents have the right to obtain information about the instructors who teach their children, the school board and people who contract with the district or receive funds from the district.

However, Republican Senate spokesman Caleb Hunter said this parent’s bill of rights covers public and charter schools — but not private schools.

Non-public schools can either be accredited by the state or by an independent state-approved agency.

The two are required to submit a fall and spring education baseline data survey, which includes information such as student enrollment, immigrants and the number of students learning English.

Individuals accredited by the state agency must submit documents throughout the year, such as a comprehensive school improvement plan and a nonpublic consultation agreement, which is a preliminary agreement for equitable services in under programs that provide additional federal funds for the upcoming school year.

Those accredited by an independent, state-approved agency have “little or no reporting requirements” to the Iowa Department of Education, said Heather Doe, director of communications for the department.

Finally, Mathis is right. There are already fewer reporting requirements for private schools, and this bill does not add new transparency requirements for schools whose students receive the proposed taxpayer-funded scholarship. Grade: A

Conclusion

Wording in the bill that would have added more transparency does not apply to private schools. And Mathis is correct that the bill diverts millions of people from the public schools where a large majority of Iowans are educated.

We give Mathis an A overall.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team verifies statements made by an Iowa political candidate/leader or national candidate/leader about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our marketplace.

Claims must be independently verifiable. We assign statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim that you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

The members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This fact checker was researched and written by Marissa Payne.

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