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Iowa needs more education competition

During the pandemic when students were sent home to learn virtually, parents functionally became educators. Keeping kids on task and creating at-home learning projects inspired parents to create learning pods and exchange at-home education ideas via Facebook groups or blogs.

Many parents found that home schooling worked better for their kids and allowed them to communicate their family values. Now due to an abundance of caution or newfound love for home schooling, the national number of home-schooled students jumped from 5.4 percent to 11.1 percent. This increase is, in part, driven by parents in metropolitan areas enrolling their children in alternative education programs.

Nationally, public and private schools have been receiving lots of attention for teaching politically contentious lessons. Public schools are diving deeper into complicated, cultural topics that educators are woefully unprepared to navigate or field questions about. In a time when public schools are under scrutiny for teaching critical race theory, although now banned in Iowa schools, there is renewed interest in giving parents more input.

Elon Musk and other SpaceX employees favor a “pod” education style, popular in California’s Silicon Valley, to educate their children. Depending on the pod structure, private tutors are hired to teach for a few hours a week on particular lessons or parents direct activities. Home-school groups in Iowa have similar arrangements. For example, in the Cedar Valley a math professor from a local college will teach the group of multi-age students twice a week and other parents with comparable but different talents will lead over other lessons.

These home-school pods or alternative education associations will likely increase in number because the Iowa Legislature recently passed a bill (HF 813) allowing charter school applications to go directly to the Department of Education instead of the local school board. Teachers and proponents of public school, who largely make up local school boards, have obvious incentives to keep students enrolled in public school, as federal and state funding follows the number of students enrolled at each school. The state removed any temptation for public school boards to squash charter school applications.

But why stop here? Per student in Iowa, $11,732 is invested per year on that child’s education. SF 159 proposed establishing a “Students First Scholarship,” but it died after passing the Senate in January. The parents of eligible students entering kindergarten or currently attending a public school can use up to $5,720 for certain educational services, including private school tuition, online education, education therapies, private tutoring or future educational expenses. Adopting this proposal would empower parents to spend the scholarship on education, but if they opt for home schooling, why not give them a portion of that money for their labor?

Public schools are a necessity but they aren’t exclusively deserving of taxpayer education funding when parents, private and charter schools offset the workload of education for Iowa’s children. We should continue this competitive education trend by empowering parents who home-school and encouraging the development of alternative education groups that will continue to grow in our community.

Patricia Patnode is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: patricia.patnode@thegazette.com

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PATRICIA PATNODE

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