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August 2012 Brief: Volume 19, Number 22

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Legislators Failed Our Children


by Deborah D. Thornton



During the 2012 Legislative session, our state Legislators failed our children. Instead of taking the lead on innovative school reform actions – as Legislators and Governors did in other states – our elected officials neither led nor followed. Specifically, the Iowa Senate, controlled by the Democrat party by two votes (26-24), spent the session obstructing reform attempts.


Importantly, Governor Branstad’s reform 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, private-school and higher-education officials, parents, and the Iowa State Teachers Association. Yet, because the proposed reforms were not exactly what they wanted, the educational establishment opposed them. Unfortunately, Governor Branstad’s proposal was silent on school choice – the ability of parents to be fully responsible for determining the best education for their children. In 2012, the Governors and Legislatures of many other states were more successful in their education reform efforts.


Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Milton Friedman advocated extensively for parental control of children’s education. July 31 was the 100th anniversary of his birth.[1] The key points Dr. Friedman made on school choice were 1. It is not a public purpose to “build brick schools.” The purpose is to provide education, by whatever means. 2. Economics proves if you want more of something, you subsidize it. By subsidizing the producer of education we reduce competition. There is no reason for the producer (the government schools) to improve their product because parents, students, and taxpayers have to use the product provided. 3. If schools have to meet the needs of the student, in order to convince them to attend that specific school, the product would improve. 4. By allowing schools to pick their students, based on geography or social engineering, you do not generate a good product.[2]


In contrast to Iowa, “Thirteen states enacted school choice programs (in 2011). A total of 19 programs were enacted or improved — including the creation of eight new programs and the expansion of 11 existing ones,” according to the most recent Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report on school choice.[3] These states included Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Several states were even more proactive in 2012.


Led by Governor Mitch Daniels (Republican), Indiana enacted an ambitious program in 2011. During the 2012-13 school year, 15,000 students can participate in the Indiana School Scholarship program, and in the third and following years, there will be no participation cap, just income eligibility limits. [4]


In 2012, the states of New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia all adopted new tax-credit scholarship programs. The New Hampshire Legislature overrode Governor John Lynch’s (Democrat) veto to put their program in place, allowing an 85 percent credit.[5] Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (Republican) signed legislation which “creates a tax credit for corporate donations” of 75 percent to scholarship programs in the state’s lowest 15 percent of public schools.[6] Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell (Republican) signed legislation allowing tax credits of 65 percent to be taken by both individuals and corporations for donations made to a 501(c) (3) non-profit, school-tuition organization.


The New Hampshire and Virginia plans establish student scholarship eligibility at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, while Pennsylvania sets its limit at a family income of $60,000. There is a scholarship cap of $2,500 per child in New Hampshire, with families of homeschooled children eligible to receive $750 per child.[7] The Pennsylvania limit is $8,500, with a $15,000 limit for special-needs students. In Virginia, the scholarship is the amount of money allocated by the state to the school district for each child.


Earlier in 2012, Arizona expanded its existing scholarship program from special-needs children only to children of active U.S. military members, students in failing schools, and children adopted from foster care. Ninety percent of the state funding per child can be deposited in an Empowerment Scholarship Account. That money can be spent on tuition, on-line courses, tutoring, textbooks, or even college costs. There is no income limit. Over 230,000 children are now eligible to attend the school of their parents’ choice.[8]


The Louisiana program became one of the largest nationally when Governor Bobby Jindal (Republican) extended vouchers from the New Orleans district and special-needs students to all low- and middle-income students statewide in schools receiving a “C” or lower on the state accountability score.[9] Louisiana had one of the worst government-school systems in the country, but is now a leader.


When did famously independent, self-reliant Iowans decide that parents are not the first and the correct decision-makers about our children? When did we decide that partisan and union foot-dragging are more important than our children are? 2013 needs to be the year of Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way for school choice in Iowa!


Public Interest Institute’s POLICY STUDY: “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way: School Choice in Iowa,” can be viewed at


[1] “Milton Friedman’s Bio,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, <> accessed on June 25, 2012.
[2] “Milton Friedman – Educational Vouchers,” Hillsdale College, May 22, 2006, released May 29, 2009, <> accessed on June 25, 2012.
[3] “Rising Tide - ABC’s of School Choice 2012,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, <> accessed on June 18, 2012.
[4] “Indiana Choice Scholarship Program is Most Expansive First-Year Voucher Program in Nation’s History,” Indiana Department of Education, November 3, 2011, <> accessed on June 22, 2012.
[5] “New Hampshire and Virginia Now School Choice States,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, June 27, 2012, <> accessed on June 28, 2012.
[6] “Pennsylvania Governor Corbett Enacts Landmark School Reforms, Increases Funding,” U.S. Politics Today, July 2, 2012, <> accessed on July 3, 2012.
[7] “Large Majority Passes Tax-Credit Scholarship in New Hampshire,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, May 17, 2012, <> accessed on June 25, 2012.
[8] “Arizona Governor Signs Groundbreaking School Choice Plan,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, May 15, 2012, <> accessed on June 26, 2012.
[9] “Louisiana Governor Signs School Choice Expansion Into Law,” The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, April 18, 2012, <> accessed on June 26, 2012.

Deborah D. Thornton is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at


Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.



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