Education savings accounts coming to Iowa?

DES MOINES - A revamp of school choice could be coming to Iowa. 

In previous legislative sessions, lawmakers have talked about a voucher program that would give parents the ability to take their kids to a different school outside their district. This year, school choice legislation is all about a savings account. Each Iowa student who's in the public school system gets about $6,500 per year from the state to fund their education. 

"The whole impetus is to provide kids opportunities," said Rep. Walt Rogers (R- Cedar Falls).

Rogers has introduced a bill where 90 percent of a family's school funding, so about $5,000, would go into an account and the parents could use that money to send their child to any school they want: a private school, a public school, a charter school, or any school outside their district.

"I've got several private schools in my district. I also think it's gaining momentum nationally. President Trump campaign on this issue," said Rogers.

It looks clean on paper, it's pretty dirty when you get into the details," said Dr. Tom Ahart, superintendent for Des Moines Public Schools. "Funneling public money into a private institution that follows a different set of expectations flies in the face of the public school tradition in the state of Iowa."

Ahart said the legislation would increase the percentage of low-income students in his district, and also make for an even tighter budget.

"If we can only afford to give one percent of new money to public schools and adding a tremendous expense to education funding, I don't know how you can make the argument we will not be siphoning money away from already underfunded public schools," said Ahart.

"I just counter that with every time a student leaves the state or district the same thing happens. They take those dollars with them," said Rogers in response to Ahart's argument.

Because this is funnel week, this bill has to make it through committee so it can survive and be debated on the house floor.

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