It’s rare in politics that you can find an issue that is a winner in both politics and policy. School choice is one of them.
The polling says that this is one of the few bipartisan issues out there. In a recent nationwide poll from RealClear Politics, voters were asked: “School choice gives parents the right to use the tax dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school which best serves their needs. Generally speaking, would you say you support or oppose the concept of school choice?”
The results? They show that 76% of Republicans, 66% of Independents, and 64% of Democrats support the issue. And looking geographically, 67% of suburban voters support the issue, 69% of urban voters support the issue, and 73% of rural voters support the issue.
Anyone who has worked on a campaign would beg for those kinds of polling results on an issue their candidate supports.
On the policy front, this is an issue that is ultimately about helping children. Most importantly, it’s about helping lower-income and middle-income families give their children access to a school that best fits their needs.
Let’s dig into the resounding success of Iowa’s School Tuition Organization (STO) program.
The STO has always been a bipartisan initiative. It was signed into law by Governor Vilsack in 2006 and expanded modestly under both Gov. Branstad and Gov. Reynolds. It’s a 65% tax credit that allows donors to give a charitable contribution to K-12 scholarship granting organizations, who then give out scholarships to families to choose a private school for their child. It’s a means-tested program, and data from the state government shows that the average household income for families that receive a scholarship is $43,897 dollars. The program is serving 10,791 students across the state. Also, the Department of Revenue studies the program’s fiscal impact and shows that the tax credit reduced tax revenue by $12 million dollars, but reduced tax spending by $24.6 million in expenditures to otherwise educate that child. A win for the state budget – A win for the families.
Speaking of families, take a look at just one of the tens of thousands of success stories from this school choice program in Iowa. A young woman named Gabby was able to access advanced courses and a challenging academic environment thanks to the scholarship program. Heartbreakingly, her mother passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2019, leaving Gabby and her family with emotional pain and financial difficulties. Private school tuition would have been nearly impossible to afford–even with Iowa’s relatively lower statewide tuition average at $5,264 (and that’s compared to about $11,000 per student in public school spending in Iowa). But thankfully, thanks to the Iowa STO, she didn’t have to be pulled out of school during an already difficult transition in her life.
As we enter a new decade and begin a new legislative session, let’s not forget that there are still great issues that have enjoyed and should continue to receive bipartisan support. School Choice is one of those issues. In this session of the legislature, let’s hope that Democrats and Republicans can come together again and do the right thing for our kids.