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July 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-6


Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: School Choice in Iowa





In “We Must Find Common Ground,” a POLICY STUDY for the Public Interest Institute, October 2011, I encouraged parents, grandparents, school board members, and state officials such as Legislators and Governors, who all want the same thing for Iowa’s children — a good education — to keep this goal in mind and find common ground on education reform. Our children are depending on us to help them get the very best education possible.


Unfortunately, during the 2012 Legislative session, our elected officials failed them. Instead the Iowa Senate, controlled by the Democrat party by two votes (26-24), spent the entire session neither leading nor following, and definitely not getting out of the way, but instead obstructing every attempt by Governor Terry Branstad and the House of Representatives to address problems in our government-education system.


As a result, the reform program presented by Governor Branstad was mostly ignored, with only minor parts passed. This was unfortunate.


Importantly, Governor Branstad’s proposal was not crafted in a vacuum, but came after an extensive series of state and local meetings, often contentious, with a wide variety of stakeholders, including teachers and the Iowa State Teachers Association. The teachers’ union was well represented at these meetings, as were
pre-K – 12 administrators, higher-education officials, private-school officials, parents, and even some children. Again, it was not crafted in a vacuum.


Yet, because the proposed reforms did not follow exactly what they wanted, many in the educational establishment opposed them.


Even more unfortunately, Governor Branstad’s proposed reform was mostly silent on school choice — the ability of parents to be fully responsible for determining the best educational option for their children. In 2012 the Governors and Legislatures of many other states were bolder, and more successful, in their education-reform efforts.


Both Governor Branstad and the Iowa Legislature must look at bold initiatives, not just a tweaking of old systems. The government-education system in Iowa used to be known as one of the best in the nation. Not any longer.


Our children’s test scores and achievements are now in the middle of the pack nationwide, and not improving. An increased focus on federal and state control, versus local control, continues to weaken our schools and families. We are not leading.



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