The Hudson School Board believes that expanded educational opportunities should be made available in order to meet the learning needs of all our students. Indeed, our core purpose states as much: We create effective learning environments that result in success for ALL students. However, this idea of expanded educational opportunities come with one very important caveat: any legislation that seeks to expand school choice programs needs to remain under the authority of the local school board. Your local school board, and all public school boards around the state represent the taxpayer when it comes to the education of youth in Iowa. This governance structure ensures your public school provides a free and appropriate education to all students, regardless of socio-economic status, disability, or any other protected class of citizenry. For these primary reasons, we resist any attempts to expand choice programs through the introduction of voucher programs.
School voucher programs that were proposed during the last legislative session were the antithesis of the ideals enshrined in our public school system. Not only do these programs take the 'public' out of public school accountability; they also create a caste system of education, allowing schools who would be the recipient of such a voucher the choice to deny enrollment to a student that may subscribe to a different value system, religion, or even more sinister: they may choose to deny students with disabilities under the pretense they can't meet the needs of a particular group of students.
First consider this idea of accountability. Every school district in Iowa is required by law to have an annual audit of their financial records. This gives transparency to the general public in order to ensure the public dollar is wisely invested. Furthermore, we publish an accounting of the checks we write each month. The public is able to see with their own eyes to whom bills are being paid. And I know my readers out there look at the bills! From time to time I'll get a phone call or see someone at a game that will wonder why we spent $1,012.50 with A-Line Striping and Sweeping (by the way that was annual parking lot maintenance that included painting new lines in the high school parking lot). The meetings of our public school are in fact public meetings. That means anyone who wants to attend a school board meeting can do so. If the school board wants to go into closed session there is a very narrow range of topics that permit the board to do so, and that can only happen by giving advance notice and the reason the board is taking such action. Those schools who would benefit from vouchers have no such requirements because they are not subject to the Open Meetings Law. Perhaps to some this is a minor nuisance. But consider a world where decisions made with the public dollar are done so behind closed doors without public accountability. What if you didn't know, or if we wouldn't tell you why we spent $26 with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation? (employee background check)
Now envision a scenario where your child is denied enrollment at a school because they have a learning disability or exhibit behaviors that don't fit within the mold of the average child. What if you subscribe to a different religion than the one aligned with the school that accepts the voucher? In the examples described here, the school choice legislation previously proposed would give those institutions the authority to do exactly that, and exclude even more students than those examples given here. In fact, page 6 of HSB 651, which was a real bill from last year that actually passed out of a subcommittee stated the following beginning on line 9:
This section shall not be construed to authorize the state or any political subdivision of the state to exercise any authority over any nonpublic school or construed to require a nonpublic school to modify its academic standards for admission or educational program in order to receive payment from a parent or guardian using the funds from a pupil's account in the educational savings fund.
And here is the real kicker, beginning on line 18 of the same section:
Rules adopted by the department to implement this section that impose an undue burden on the nonpublic school are invalid.
Public schools exist to educate all students regardless of where they come from, whatever learning challenges they may or may not have, whoever their parents are, and no matter what they believe.