A bill creating a costly tax credit for private school tuition vouchers has passed the state Senate and is soon expected to go before the Iowa House of Representatives. Senate File 2295 will allow individual tax credits for donations to non-profit organizations, which would then be responsible for directing the funds. There is no cap on the amount of money that can be diverted away from state coffers to subsidize private schools.
“This bill does nothing to help the vast majority of children attending public schools,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way (PFAW). “Under this law, a full two-thirds of the students using these vouchers can already be in a private school system. This means that Iowa is contemplating subsidizing the private school education of children whose parents can already afford private school tuition. And, since there’s no limit on the amount of tax credits, this could create a budgetary black hole of unknown proportions.”
Unlike public schools, private schools will not be subject to any academic or fiscal accountability. This means private schools will not be required to test their voucher students, nor will their teachers have to be accredited. Also, while the bill requires organizations distributing the vouchers to report on which schools are getting voucher students, the number of contributions, the total number of voucher students and a breakdown of how many are "new" and how many are from families making less than 300% of federal poverty level, (roughly$51,000 per year), there are no specified consequences for failure to report this data.
The proposed Iowa law is similar to a tax credit voucher program in Arizona. The People For the American Way Foundation report, A Model To Avoid, found that the Arizona program lacked accountability and was redirecting dollars to middle- and upper-income families.
“This bill is terrible education policy. We have studied tax credit vouchers in other states. We know that they are prone to corruption and mismanagement and they do nothing to meaningfully improve education,” said Nancy Keenan, PFAW education director. “State leaders should focus on proven reforms that benefit all children like smaller class sizes, after school programs, improving teacher quality and promoting parental involvement.”