Dengler Domain: Vouchers


In the never-ending media circus the world lives in, news comes faster and faster. Whether it is through social media or television screens, new information comes and goes before one even knows it. Sadly, this means vital information can be missed. For Iowa, there is one piece of legislation which needs to be highlighted again due to its potential impact on rural Iowa. This is the Student First Act which allows people to use public money for private school tuition.

In case you missed it, according to WHO13, over 29,000 applications have applied for private school vouchers and 17,481 have been approved as of July 6. Currently, household incomes at or below $90,000 for a family of four, or 300% of the federal poverty level, are eligible to apply for an education savings account. This ESA provides $7,635 for each student to pay for private school tuition.

In the meantime, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, private schools across the state such as Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines and Wahlert Catholic in Dubuque have increased their tuition. When an entity has the government backing, it gets easier to raise prices. Ethanol and its effects on land rents/prices in Iowa are similar. Unfortunately, the party of limited government is not so limited when it benefits their wealthy donors. Whether a beginning farmer without farm connection or a family who still will not be able to afford private school with the vouchers, the government involvement hurts. Income inequality will only get worse.

Back to those who have applied for this program, WHO13 also states 60% of applications are for those attending a private school and 40% are for students planning to move from public into a private school. If one made their decision already to pay for private school without government dollars, then there is no reason to take the government dollars. Being a farmer, it is hard to pass up free dollars. I wish I had the backbone, but I do not when it comes to crop insurance or conservation payments. It is a double edge sword. I will also say for a smaller, beginning farmer like me, having the backing helps, but I also believe at a certain point for the largest producers, there should be a backing off of subsidies. Keeping the private school vouchers for low-income people makes more sense than when the program is fully phased in and the wealthiest of people can utilize this program. This is also why the student loan relief which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court is no different than private school vouchers. Love or hate either one, but one cannot exist without the other if you want to square the argument.

The biggest issue regarding this program is the cost. According to KCRG, the state anticipated 14,068 students would enroll in the first year of the program, and at this point, that projection has been exceeded and will continue to grow. This means taxpayers will be on the hook for more dollars to send to private schools.

As the program expands in the second year, where the income threshold rises to 400% and then year three where all students will be eligible for the ESA, the program is estimated to cost $345 million annually. It is not hard to guess that by the time this program is fully implemented, the state could be easily blowing by these projections, costing Iowa taxpayers more hard-earned cash.

By not keeping these dollars in public schools and subsidizing mostly those already attending private schools, our public rural schools like North Tama, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, GMG, and others will have to fight even more to stay open. Think about the possibilities these dollars could have on the students in these schools, and honestly, the worst part is once these schools go, the towns go. Rural children will ride the bus longer to attend a public school, and the traditions of the Redhawks, Rebels, Wolverines, and others will go wayside like the Red Devils, Charging Czechs, Wolves, and the Trojans. These traditions will be remembered in museums, and in the memories of those who attended until they leave the Earth. All because those who could afford the private school in the first place could get a little richer. It is a shame. A real shame.

Sean Dengler is a writer, comedian, farmer, and host of the Pandaring Talk podcast who grew up on a farm between Traer and Dysart. You can reach him at sean.h.dengler@gmail.com.