Area Schools are Watching Two Key Legislative Bills

Legislators and Governor Kim Reynolds are reminding north Iowans that the state budget will be tight and that there may not be enough money to fund area school districts like they may need or want to. The chambers are talking about giving money to districts to try and compensate them for bussing children who reside in large districts such as West Hancock Community Schools. The district spends over a $1,000 per student each year to transport them to and from school. However, the money sent to the district from the state may not match what the district pays out for each student. This forces the district to spend money that could otherwise be used to buy textbooks, supplies, educational materials, or support additional teachers which reduces class sizes.

Forest City Community Schools spend a little over $500 per student in transportation costs. Like the surrounding districts, they are paying close attention to the funding battle in Des Moines. However, what strikes Superintendent Darwin Lehmann as odd is the juxtaposition for the lack of money for public schools, but the apparent strong ability to fund school vouchers for private schools.

Forest City Community Schools Superintendent Darwin Lehmann

Two study bills are before the House and Senate in Iowa. They went to committee on Tuesday and support the idea of funding school vouchers or Educational Savings Accounts allowing parents to send their students to private schools of their choice and have the state fund it. In some legislators eyes, this would create better “School Choice.”

In the rural communities, there are few private schools that are available. Most are located in the larger communities and cities throughout Iowa. There are a few in north Iowa, but some students would have to travel long distances, crossing multiple districts, to study there. While the education levels at these schools is excellent, the state still continues to fund these institutions claiming greater educational opportunities for all Iowa students.

House Study Bill 651 has an interesting caveat attached in the language of the legislation as does its Senate counterpart. The money that is sent to area public school districts such as Garner-Hayfield-Ventura, North Iowa, or Lake Mills comes with conditions that have to be met by the district such as spending limits or restrictions. For the private schools, no such accountability of tax dollars is required.

Discussion on the two measures continues today in committees for the House and Senate.