Providing the Best Educational Opportunities for All

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting all aspects of life. The pandemic is especially changing the way Americans think about education. COVID has forced many schools to adopt a hybrid model of in-class and online learning. Many parents, who are working from home, are finding themselves balancing both work and guiding their child’s online education. “The COVID crisis has laid bare a lot about American education. Parents are more aware than ever before how and what their children are—or are not—learning. And far too many of them are stuck with no choices, no help, and no way forward,” stated United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.


The COVID pandemic is forcing more parents to become more involved in their child’s education. This is forcing families to become more involved in education. Many parents across Iowa are asking for more educational options for their children. A family in southwest Iowa recently shared that they are struggling to find an alternative to their public school. Both parents work full-time, and they are weighing various options, including one of them quitting their job to homeschool their children. This family is not opposed to public education, but they believe public schools in their area are not providing a quality education.


This family, along with many others across Iowa, are looking for better educational opportunities. Expanding educational opportunities through school choice can take numerous forms. This includes allowing parents to form educational pods, micro-schools, creating Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), expanding tax credit programs, or allowing more charter schools.


Education is a centralized institution that is too controlled by the government. “Many in Washington think that because of their power there, they can make decisions for parents everywhere. In that troubling scenario, the school building replaces the home, the child becomes a pawn, and the state replaces the family,” argues Secretary Devos.


Public education is a monopoly and often, especially for lower and middle income families, an alternative educational option is difficult because of the cost. Taxpayers in Iowa are paying for education through federal, state, and local taxes. The current education model places roadblocks in front of additional opportunities because funding is tied to school districts rather than students. Zip codes or socio-economic status also place limits on educational opportunities. Although Iowa has two tax credit programs to help with the cost of private education, both are limited.


“Education funding is intended to help children learn, not to protect a government monopoly,” stated Corey DeAngelis, Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation.


To increase opportunity, educational funding must be allowed to follow the student. “Our schools exist because we pay for them. So, we should be empowered to spend our education dollars our way on our kids,” stated Secretary DeVos.


“Families are in need of educational options now more than ever as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” wrote DeAngelis. Iowa parents should be allowed to utilize their tax dollars to follow their child to the best possible educational opportunity.


At the heart of allowing education dollars to follow the child is permitting families to have greater control over education. “I like to picture kids with their backpacks representing funding for their education following them wherever they go to learn. In this sense, public and private schools alike don’t exist to supplant parents; they exist to supplement them,” noted Secretary DeVos.


Secretary DeVos stated, “American taxpayers spend about $739 billion dollars on government education.” “More than $15 thousand dollars on average, per student, per year.” In Fiscal Year 2019, Iowa’s per pupil expenditure was $14,264, which includes federal, state, and local tax dollars.


As a result of education consuming such a large percentage of state and local tax dollars, the focus is often on whether education has enough funding. Secretary DeVos points out, even with major increases in educational funding, it does not translate into a higher quality education.


The United States Department of Education recently released results from the Nation’s Report Card on math and reading assessments and the results were disappointing. The “results confirm America’s schools continue to fall far short, and continue to fail too many kids, especially the most disadvantaged. Being a high school graduate should mean something. But when 40 percent of these graduates are 'below basic' in math, and 30 percent are 'below basic' in reading, it’s hard to argue the education system is preparing them for what comes next,” stated Secretary DeVos. It is not just math and reading that we are seeing poor results. Students across the nation are demonstrating a “below basic” understanding of American history.


Iowa can change this dynamic by allowing dollars to follow students. "It’s particularly troubling to see the results for our lowest performing and most disadvantaged students getting worse… It’s a problem of approach,” argues Secretary DeVos. The Nation’s Report Card demonstrates that more education funding does not necessarily translate into better education outcomes.


Having education dollars follow the student should not be controversial. DeAngelis points out, other programs provide funding to families and education should be no exception. “This is exactly how we fund many other taxpayer-funded initiatives, including Pell Grants for higher education and prekindergarten programs. For these programs, funding goes to families who can then choose from a wide array of public or private providers of the service. The same goes for food stamps. In these scenarios, the power is rightly in the hands of families rather than institutions,” wrote DeAngelis.


Iowa has an opportunity to expand educational opportunity by allowing dollars to follow students. Expanding school choice in Iowa will not only lead to greater competition in education, but it will also allow parents the freedom to select the best possible education for their children. Allowing greater choice in education will empower families.