Letter to the editor: School funding changes harm public education

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Perry's representative in the Iowa Senate, Sen. Jake Chapman of Adel, center, presided over Thursday's passage of SF159.

To the editor:

On Jan. 27, 2021, I wrote two letters to our state senator and representative, expressing my hope that the school voucher bill would NOT be passed. On January 29, 2021, I sent a response to a follow-up from Rep. Ray Sorensen. It is my belief that diverting public dollars to private, charter and home-schooled situations would be a detriment to public education.

Those funds are needed for the ever-changing dimensions of public education. As a retired educator and a director on our local school board, I have attended the Day on the Hill for School Boards four out of my five years on the Perry Board in an effort to advocate for our District. I continue to do that now.

In 2020 Rep. Sorensen told me that he was not in favor of education savings accounts (ESAs) and that public dollars would go to public education. Sen. Jake Chapman said, “ESA all the way.”

What has changed to cause a shift in thinking? We all know that education is an expensive venture with limited dollars to allocate. There is not a printing press in the basement of the Iowa Capitol, churning out dollars. We, as districts, understand this and work with the dollars that are given to us to provide the best education we can.

Capital improvements come from bonding and fundraising. Our district has a broad and diverse population with significant needs—educationally, financially and emotionally. Supplemental state aid (SSA) funds are allocated to educational improvements and programs specific to our diverse learners.

Diverting public funds will put these students in greater jeopardy of reduced equity in education. Rural schools will be impacted with the loss of dollars/programs for their students. Reducing public school funding will create greater disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” those who can afford to go to private schools and those who cannot.

The loss of funds would impact our abilities to meet the educational needs of our students, compromising our ability to offer a variety of course offerings, reducing current course offerings and increasing class size.

Sen. Brad Zaun in his floor address in favor of school choice said that public schools are centering their arguments based on staffing needs/salaries and that children/students were not at the forefront. This is so far from correct! Everything plays a role in education. Everything is interconnected. The loss of funds will impact student learning when course options cannot be provided and class sizes are increased due to the reduction in staff and curriculum.

We struggle with maintaining personal distance in the classroom. Adding students back into the classroom and increasing class size will compound the likelihood of more students contracting the disease. Due to the lack of vaccine availability, teachers cannot get the injections to help to protect themselves and their students. Everything interconnected.

Last year, Sen. Chapman told me that parents have the right to choose the education best suited for their child. Parents have always had a choice in their child’s education. They are free to request to open enroll in another district with no questions asked as long as timelines are met, and school funding dollars would follow that child.

Parents are free to choose a private or religious school. Parents are free to homeschool their children. These choices have always been available and have not changed. What has changed is the desire for the public to pay for a family’s choice beyond free and appropriate public education.

If I choose to send my child to an alternate educational environment, I should not expect that someone else — in this case, public taxpayers — should pay for it. It should be my responsibility. In our school district, if we (the district) send a student to an alternate educational site, we pay for the cost of that move, as we should.

There is much discussion on “failing schools” and students not participating in the current virtual learning. Parents have argued that schools do not hold student interests and we don’t “entertain” them sufficiently to maintain/promote student interest. There have been comments that students become “bored” because the course of instruction moves too slowly for them and they should not have to do the assigned work.

Blame cannot be laid solely at the school doors. Education is a three-way street. Teachers need to provide appropriate curriculum, but students need to participate in their education and do the work. Parents need to support the efforts of both the teachers and students. They should know what is going on in the classroom and be proactively involved in the educational process.

In the real world, there are timelines to meet and quality of work to be produced. Post-secondary opportunities are available for all eligible high school students at no cost — as long as the course work is completed and given a passing grade. We have a DMACC location in our city and transport approximately 100 students to each morning and afternoon session. We must appreciate and access our resources. We need to support what we have and not tear it apart.

Home-schooling has always been an issue for most public-school educators. In the past, there were guidelines and oversight regarding what is taught and progress to be made. Currently, there is NO oversight on home-school curriculum. The current bill would make charter schools exempt from state regulations.

Last year, Sen. Chapman said that “parents know best and government should stay out” when asked about the need for oversight, regulations and educational requirements. I know several families who very successfully home-school their children. These families work with a consortium of parents in order to provide appropriate curriculum as they are aware that every parent cannot be proficient in all areas of higher education.

In many situations, this is not the case. Sitting in a classroom does not an educator make! There are children whose education and well-being may be jeopardized by well-meaning or neglectful parents. Need I remind anyone of the Sabrina Ray and Natalie Finn cases?

There is more to education than content. Social and ideological interactions are important. During the pandemic, we have heard of the need to get students back to school so they can interact with their peers. Home-schooling does not promote social and ideological interactions with their peers.

I have heard Gov. Kim Reynolds state that she is committed to public education. If the legislature and the governor are truly committed to public education, I question the need for speed and the lack of input from the local school districts. It appears that an agenda is being fast-tracked to avoid differing opinions or public comment. We talk the talk about local autonomy and transparency but do not appear to be walking the walk.

As elected officials, we are elected to represent our constituents. I need to know what those in the Perry Community School District are thinking in order to make the best decisions for the entire district, not just a segment of the population. I need to gather information and concerns beyond my family and social circles.

I encourage Sen. Chapman and Rep. Sorensen to do the same: Before voting, truly find out what your constituents want. My vote is NO.

Linda Andorf, PCSD Vice President
Perry

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