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The Weekly Rocket by Senator Rocky De Witt (January 27, 2023)

The Weekly Rocket by Senator Rocky De Witt

Week three has officially wrapped up and it has continued to get busier and busier with all of the subcommittee and committee meetings. This week we debated our first bill of the year. House File 68, the school choice proposal put forward by the governor, passed the Iowa House and Senate this week. I was happy to approve this legislation, known as the Students First Act.

Additionally, this week was also School Choice Week in our state. During the bill signing, Governor Reynolds said, “Public schools are the foundation of our education system and for most families they will continue to be the option of choice, but they aren’t the only choice. For some families, a different path may be better for their children. With this bill, every child in Iowa, regardless of zip code or income, will have access to the school best suited for them.”

The “income” comment is telling, in that now MORE students will truly have the choice and opportunity to attend the school where they believe they will be best served.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver also had the opportunity to make some remarks, saying, “Republicans in Iowa have continuously fought for school choice. But school choice means different things to different people. Throughout this entire conversation – we put parents and kids first. With the passage of House File 68 last night, Iowa will lead the nation in educational opportunities and school choice options for our families.”

The Students First Act creates an Educational Savings Account (ESA) for Iowa families to use to access a non-public school. This amount is equal to state funding provided to public schools. For next year it will be approximately $7,600. It will be available in the first year of implementation to incoming kindergarten students, students currently in public schools, and families with income of less than 300% of Federal Poverty Level. The program expands by year three to include all families.

One comment frequently made about the Students First Act is private schools are not accountable. This claim is easily debunked by the reality that private schools have the same accreditation standards used by public schools or by another accreditation system approved by the Iowa Department of Education. Students using an ESA to attend a non-public school are tested and evaluated in the same way students in a public school are tested, and those results are compiled and reported in the same way.

Even more than the accreditation standards and testing, non-public schools have the very real and practical accountability realized by the presence of choice. The private school is fully accountable to their parents and wholly motivated to provide a product parents find acceptable, because if they don’t, parents can simply choose another option. It’s the same simple principle used in nearly every other transaction in American life and it has created the most successful economy in the history of the world.

Many legitimate studies have shown the benefits of school choice to students in both public and private schools. Specifically, test scores for rural students in states with broad school choice programs have also markedly outpaced the national average.

Finally, experiences in rural areas in Florida, a state with a robust school choice program, have seen an expansion of educational options in rural areas. Even with an expansion of options for rural students, a vast majority of students in rural areas remain in the public school and Iowa should expect the same results.

Thus far, my time here so far has been BUSY, and trying to find my routine is a challenge. But I know that when issues are controversial, I will be getting calls and emails. Please know that I will listen to my constituents concerns and vote accordingly just as I did with HF 68. Votes aren’t always easy but votes are a necessary part of the legislative process.

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