Republicans Should Support School Choice in Iowa

An argument for expanding school choice in Iowa
Unsplash, Austin Goode

Last year, school choice victories were as plentiful as the cornfields in Iowa, but this year — despite the issue’s prominence as a centerpiece of the GOP’s platform — school choice campaigns across the nation have been less successful. In fact, instead of finding supporters in heavily Republican-controlled state legislatures, school choice advocates are finding some of their most formidable rivals. Republicans in Idaho, Utah, and Georgia have all blocked school choice bills of some kind this year. 

Luckily, that’s a trend Iowa’s GOP is trying to buck. Indeed, a few days ago, the Iowa State Senate passed Governor Kim Reynolds’ school choice bill (SF 2369) with heavy Republican support. The bill now rests in the hands of Iowa’s House of Representatives, where, oddly enough, school choice has found trouble in the past. Last year, a similar bill supported by Governor Reynolds was killed in the house — and with help from Republicans, too!

Now Iowa’s Republicans in the House have a chance to redeem themselves by standing up for Iowa’s students and families. The Hawkeye State should be leading on funding students instead of the system. Let’s hope conservative legislators in the House reject the status quo and send the bill to the Governor’s desk to be signed.

SF 2369 would give 10,000 students from lower and middle-income families the opportunity to apply for an Education Savings Account (ESA) holding 70 percent of state per-pupil spending — currently a little over $5,000. Unlike a voucher program that families can only use at certain private schools, ESAs would allow families the maximum flexibility to address their children’s learning needs, whether it’s tutoring, learning materials, or special needs therapies. 

If passed, the ESA will be a huge leap forward for increasing education accessibility in Iowa. Expanding the state’s school choice repertoire would empower lower and middle-income families to choose an education that works best for them more than ever before. 

For Iowa House Representatives voting ‘yea’ on this bill should be a no-brainer. It’s a smart move if they hope to keep their jobs. Support for school choice in Iowa is strong, with 76 percent of all school parents and 66 percent of all adults in the State of Iowa in support of ESAs, like the one in SF 2369.

Moreover, if these legislators care about creating a better education system, similar programs to the ESA Reynolds hopes to create in Iowa have a proven track record of doing so. A majority of studies on school choice participants’ and public school student test scores after states and localities implemented school choice programs show overwhelmingly positive results. Still, school choice programs have many benefits for students and their families outside of increased test scores. For instance, perceived safety, civic values, and mental health rates go up thanks to the additional opportunities ESAs provide.

Moving forward, the traditional one-size-fits-all school model should be laid to rest. Every child is different, and the future of education calls for flexibility. School choice provides that flexibility, allowing parents and family members the opportunity to access an educational environment that fits their student. And SF 2369 provides that flexibility for Iowa’s most disadvantaged families. Nobody should rob Iowa’s families of the choice to have their children learn in a non-traditional learning environment, especially not Republicans. Instead, Iowa legislators should empower families to have options by passing SF 2369 so every child, no matter their income, receives the best shot of having an excellent education.

Cooper Conway
Cooper Conway is a contributor at Young Voices and a Boise State University Honors College student, where he studies political science.