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January 2013 Policy Study, Number 13-1


School Choice: Not if the Unions Have Any Say


Elected Officeholders



Charged with drafting, voting on, and implementing legislation that affects education, elected and appointed officials are on the leading edge of the school options debates. Many have strong ties to teachers unions and school administrators in their states. Below are quotes from two elected officials, as reported by the media, questioning school choice in general, and specifically questioning online schools.


Iowa State Senator Tom Courtney (D-Burlington):


“But the debate over the two schools in question is about ‘whether we want to hand over the education of thousands of Iowa children to for-profit, out-of-state companies that will rely on 100 percent online classes,’ said Courtney.”[22]


Senator Courtney has received $1,900 over three election cycles from educational interest groups and individuals.[23] He is a former UAW member, and has received almost $38,500 in union contributions while in office. In 2012 he received almost $4,500 from both national and local labor unions.[24] Additionally, in the last two years Courtney received $36,483 through in-kind contributions from the Iowa Democrat Party.


Iowa State Senator Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa):


Though saying he “appreciates” school choice in his role as a parent and educator, when discussing the use of open enrollment for student athletes, he said, “The bottom line of it from my perspective is that it’s taking away the integrity of high school athletics.”[25]


Senator Bowman is an intimate member of the educational establishment, as a teacher and wrestling coast at Maquoketa High School, where he is also the President of the Maquoketa Area Education Association.


First elected in 2010, he received $1,000 from the Iowa teachers union and almost $2,300 from AFSCME. General union contributions exceed $16,000, and Iowa Democrat Party contributions exceed $60,000.[26] As a first-time candidate, Senator Bowman basically had the election bought for him by the unions and Iowa Democrat Party, winning by less than 75 votes. This was a key race in determining control of the Iowa Senate, which ended up 26 D – 24 R in 2012.


Bowman serves on the Education and Local Government Committees.[27] In May 2012, he voted “yes” on SF 2284, Education Law Amendments, which would limit the “statewide enrollment of students in educational instruction that is delivered primarily over the Internet to no more than 0.18 percent of the statewide enrollment of all students and no more than 1 percent of a sending district’s total enrollment.”[28]


Additionally, he supported amendments which would have limited the amount of online education children could receive to less than 50 percent of their total education.


Some children may take advantage of online school choice, but not all – and even those children could only use online education 50 percent of the time. In a small district with less 500 students – the size of many Iowa school districts – this would limit the number of children using this school-choice method to a grand total of five, with an effective Full-Time Equivalency (FTE) of 2.5 students.


Bowman has also received $1,100 in contributions from the Bridgepoint Education PAC. Bridgepoint, based in San Diego, California, owns Ashford University, an online college based in Clinton, Iowa – which has been investigated by the U.S. Senate for poor graduation rates and high student debt.[29]


Apparently Senator Bowman supports online education in some instances, but not others.




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