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Sioux City School Board President Dan Greenwell concerned about possible burden caused by private school vouchers

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SIOUX CITY — Sioux City School Board President Dan Greenwell is worried about how the recently passed state-funded private school financial assistance package will affect the district.

“I think it’s a potential problem for public schools, a significant problem,” Greenwell said during a press conference on Tuesday.

The bill, which will give families public dollars to send their children to private schools, was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds Tuesday afternoon.

Greenwell said the momentum had been building and with the majority Republican member Iowa House and Senate so it wasn’t surprising that the bill had been passed.  He said now that it has been passed, the district is focusing on ensuring there are no more burdens placed on public schools.

The student who participates in the program would receive $7,598 every year to be put toward tuition, textbooks, classroom materials and other types of educational programming expenses.

Public schools would lose out on the per-pupil funding for any student who chooses to utilize the program. The school district would get roughly $1,200 in state funding for each student who leaves the public school system.

Greenwell worries the $1,200 will come with strings such as making public schools manage the categorical activities of the private schools, such as special education and English language learner programs, or the state requiring district’s to provide teachers or administrators to the private schools.

“Typically if there’s dollars sent, there’s going to be a string attached from the state, and that’s what were worried about,” he said.

The program is estimated to cost more than $340 million annually, with a total cost of $918 million over four years.

The state funds 87.5 percent of the district’s budget while the rest comes from local property taxes, and if funding is significantly lowered, that will fall on the taxpayers, Greenwell said.

Because state funding is a year delayed, this bill would not impact next year’s school budget, but in the future, Greenwell said it will definitely impact Sioux City.

"It will have a significant financial impact on Sioux City Public Schools, and an adverse impact quite frankly," he said.

The projections presented for the proposal stated there would be a 4.2 percent increase in state revenue annually for the next five to seven years.

“That’s a very, very aggressive revenue growth every year,” Greenwell said. “In their analysis they took it down to 3.5 percent, but still that’s a pretty aggressive growth in state revenue with tax cuts and other things that are going on right now.”

Greenwell said he doesn’t believe there is a guarantee in state revenue and there’s not a guarantee on the amount of state funding for schools.

On Monday the Sioux City school district approved a resolution opposing the bill. The resolution also states the district opposes all forms of educational savings accounts, voucher programs and additional public funds appropriated for private schools.

“Carving Iowa’s education funding pie into more pieces necessarily means a smaller piece of pie for Iowa’s public-school students,” according to the resolution.

Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest public educators union representing a portion of Sioux City district employees, said the legislators who approved the bill ignored the wishes of most Iowans. 

"Make no mistake, this is not a war between public schools and private schools, it is a conflict between how taxpayer money is spent on private schools without equal access and no accountability or taxpayer oversight, he said in a news release.

"Elected officials have a responsibility to serve all the people of our great state. This legislation serves just a few, with all the people’s money.”

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