‘This does not help the Quad Cities:’ Local superintendents discuss Iowa ‘school choice’ bill

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Classroom generic(Associated Press)
Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 8:03 PM CST
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - Superintendents from Iowa and Illinois schools met on Friday morning as a part of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce’s legislative event series to discuss a variety of changes to the Iowa Code regarding education

Iowa bill 1065, now known as Senate File 159, was introduced on Jan. 20 and has undergone a few changes. The main draw to the bill is that parents would have more options to send their kids to school, providing scholarships for them to attend charter schools.

Davenport School District is one of five districts in Iowa that limit open enrollment and would see one of the greatest impacts, as projections estimate they could lose approximately $750,000 each year.

Davenport Superintendent TJ Schneckloth said, “It could have a major negative impact.”

“When we talk to people around us, we want to keep our own students. The legislation that’s out there really has the opportunity for lost funding in Davenport Community Schools.”

Schneckloth added if students leave in great numbers to other schools, programs such as apprenticeships, advanced placement, bi-literacy programs, and fine arts would have to be reconsidered, hurting students in the district.

“When we lose students to charters or whatever it be, it’s going to have a financial impact on us, and it’s going to make us have to reevaluate the programs we keep,” he said. “How does that impact our community?”

North Scott Community School District’s Superintendent Joe Stutting agreed.

“This does not help the Quad Cities; putting Davenport to struggle longer with issues because of losing more kids,” he said. “And this is coming from a district that knows financially, we will gain. But is our gain truly a gain for the Quad Cities and Scott County? I think long-term on this proposal that the overall gain isn’t going to be there for us in this region. I’m cautious on it.”

Charter schools are also not proven to statistically “increase student achievement,” according to United Township’s Superintendent Jay Morrow.

He said, “More or less, it creates more have’s than have-nots if anything. That’s a big concern. Because that’s one thing we have as a whole community, it’s really quality education... it’s a shame that this may impact that.”

In Wisconsin, which has a similar plan to the proposed bill, the majority of the vouchers didn’t go to students wanting to get into a private school for the first time.

“80% of kids initially getting vouchers never did go to public school...we don’t have an unlimited budget, and as we educate more and more students, you leave less money to meet the needs in public education,” Stutting said.

The diversity plan, in effect, helps mimic real-life work environments, says Schneckloth.

“I think there’s something to be said when your neighborhood schools are intact. When I think of the variety of student groups we all have in our respective districts, plans such as those proposed being discussed and moved through legislation, some unintended consequences is a bigger gap. If there’s a family that doesn’t have access to transportation, how do I open enroll out in our area? And are we creating less diverse schools? There’s something to be said about diversity in our schools, and we have opportunities to learn from diverse teaching staff and diverse students... I want to ensure our community schools are strong and continue to have the resources we need to serve our students,” said Bettendorf Superintendent Michelle Morse.

Schneckloth said each student would take with them around $7,000. That means teacher positions may eventually be cut, and class sizes could grow.

Superintendents also discussed how education has shifted during the pandemic. Morrow said he expects “a complete online or hybrid model” will stick around post-pandemic for high schoolers.

“That’s where a good opportunity is to increase student internships, apprentices, or job shadows. If a student doesn’t have to go to English from 8-8:50 a.m. and can do that English class online, there’s some great opportunities,” he said.

All of the superintendents in the meeting, though, said if you have an opinion on the bill at hand, you can contact your local legislator.

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