Iowa School Vouchers Could Expand Public Schools’ Already Limited Special Education Resources

Margaret Buckton, Urban Education Network

Doug Wheeler, College Community School District

A voucher bill that would allow public money to be used for private schools may create more school choice, but public school education officials worry about the effects it could have about special education services.

Senate Study Bill 3080, which would create a private scholarship program, would allow up to 10,000 K-12 students in Iowa to get a scholarship of about $5,200 to attend another school – religious, private, charter or home school.

Supporters of the bill say it gives parents more school choices, but opponents say the good ones could have a devastating impact on public schools.

A student who is eligible for special education services but attends a private school is still eligible for those special services through the public school district within the boundaries of the private school – without receiving per-pupil funding from the State.

This may increase if the voucher bill is passed by providing more opportunities for public school students to attend a non-public school.

Public school districts, however, will not receive the state’s per-student funding for that student or the weighted special education funding, which increases the cost of teaching students requiring special education at the beyond the costs of instructing students in a regular program. .

The College Community School District, for example, asked 120 students to go to a nonpublic school in the first semester of the 2021-2022 school year, said Angie Morrison, financial director of College Community schools.

There are most likely more than 120 students attending non-public schools who reside in the College College School District, but not all of them have requested transportation. A fraction of these students may qualify for special education services.

Although the district does not receive per-pupil funding for these students, it is still required to provide transportation or special education services if requested by families.

K-12 public schools in Iowa are in line for a 2.5% increase in state funding under a proposal that was approved by the Iowa Legislature on Monday , an increase in K-12 funding to $7,413 per student from the current $7,227.

Education officials, however, say that’s not enough. The Iowa Urban Education Network, a group of Iowa’s largest public school districts, is advocating for state funding to be set at 5%.

Vouchers could take public school staff time and resources away from public school students and allocate them to nonpublic school students, without the funding.

“We are facing shortages of special education teachers and paraeducators,” said Margaret Buckton, legislative analyst and executive director of the Urban Education Network. “Both are understaffed, and that’s a real concern when the capital’s proposals say we have to send our staff to private schools.”

“As we strive to deliver services efficiently, this model is inefficient,” Buckton said.

Buckton was concerned that non-public schools would admit the “most easily educated” students and that public schools would lose funding for these students, making it more difficult to serve students with higher needs.

Public schools would also be required to provide transportation for students to private schools in their district if requested — a concern with the current shortage of school bus drivers that most Iowa schools face, Buckton said.

There is a national movement advocating parental choice in education. However, many other states do not have as open a registration system as Iowa.

“In Iowa, anyone can enroll in a nearby school,” Buckton said. “Some say the choice will improve public school outcomes because it creates competition, but in Iowa we already have it.”

“It’s not about school choice,” said College Community School District superintendent Doug Wheeler. “It’s about public funds and how they are spent.

“It’s going to get harder to know where the kids are if they’re not in public school and the quality of education they’re getting.”

The College Community School District does not have a private school within its district boundaries, so it would not have to allocate staffing services and time to meet the needs of private school students who require additional special education programs.

However, College Community would be “financially responsible” for any student within its district boundaries who attends a private school and requires special education services, Wheeler said.

Almost all public schools in Iowa have a special education deficit, said Joe Brown, acting superintendent of Clear Creek Amana.

“It’s going to make things worse,” he said.

Special education services can be critical to a student’s success. Julie McKibben, executive director of special education services in college community schools, said special education teachers are “experts” at determining what supports students need to succeed.

Students who qualify for special education services frequently meet with a team that includes their teachers, the building administrator, the local education agency representative, and their parents or guardians.

“We have (individual education plans) for a reason,” McKibben said.

“There is a kind of lagging skill and we need to level the playing field. When a student doesn’t have that support, are they going to be able to access education at the same rate as their peers? »

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