School Choice: Bureaucrats vs. Students

At the center of the school choice debate is whether families or bureaucrats are in control of education.

Governor Kim Reynolds has made parental choice in education a priority for the 2021 legislative session. Whether it is ensuring all Iowa students have the option to return to class or expanding parental choice, Governor Reynolds understands that education is about students rather than bureaucracies.

Opponents of parental choice often argue it will have dire consequences on public schools. These arguments do not hold water and are often made by bureaucrats and teachers’ unions who want to preserve their public education monopoly. An example of this was on full display at the Iowa legislature during the House Education subcommittee hearing.

The subcommittee heard pro and con arguments regarding Governor Reynold’s proposed Student First Scholarship program, which would create an Education Savings Account (ESA) for students in Iowa’s failing school districts, and the Governor’s charter expansion proposal.

During the hearing, those testifying in favor of school choice came from a diverse background. Students, parents, and private school teachers and leaders all shared their stories of how lives have changed because of more opportunities in education.


Opponents of the proposal were primarily represented by the Iowa School Board Association and Iowa State Education Association, the teacher’s union. Other public interest groups also spoke against choice, but what stood out at the hearing was the diverse group of individuals advocating for educational opportunity and a chance for children to succeed versus defending the public-school bureaucracy.



Public schools hold a monopoly on education. The unfortunate truth is that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work for all students, just like any monopoly cannot meet all its potential customers’ needs.  Public schools fail some students, and it is our responsibility to provide other options for those students.  Many parents would like to see their children in a different educational setting, whether for faith, curriculum, or safety reasons.

School choice is not about attacking public education but about increasing opportunity. Education should be about students rather than school systems. One of the arguments made against parental choice is that private schools have different standards. Of course, this is true. Otherwise, they would be the same as the bureaucratic monopoly, and no new options would be available.

However, private and charter schools must be accredited and use licensed teachers, dispelling the different standards argument. Both private and charter schools may have different academic curriculums than public schools, but the same principle applies: if a school offers a poor education service, then they run the risk of losing students.

Allowing greater choice in education will also result in more competition.  Marketplace competition is healthy and schools that compete for students will be forced to improve or risk losing students.



Too often, bureaucrats think they know what is best. Parents know what is best for their children and should be empowered to send them to what they determine is the best school possible. Iowa should be removing roadblocks to education. Those who testified in favor of school choice demonstrated this issue is about hope, opportunity, and the chance for all children to succeed. It is time to put students first and not bureaucracies.