Our neighboring states have figured it out — why can’t we?
Recent news headlines from Iowa confirm another Minnesota neighbor is prioritizing students over systems by expanding the types of school choice available to K-12 students and their families.
Notice I said expanding. Yes, Minnesota does offer families a variety of learning environments, but financial barriers limit who can access these options. This keeps students stuck in an educational setting that doesn’t work best for them. Legislation that would remedy this by establishing Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) has been approved by the Senate Education Finance and Policy Committee, but it faces an uphill battle as House DFLers and Gov. Tim Walz have said they would oppose it.
There is overwhelming support among Democrat voters for ESAs. And among communities of color. But Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union, opposes educational freedom. And students pay the cost.
It’s time for Minnesota to join the numerous other states that are prioritizing students over a top-down education system with clear shortcomings.
Here is how our neighboring states are ensuring that school choice isn’t just for the wealthy.
On Wednesday evening, the Iowa Senate passed a bill that establishes an ESA program. The Student First Scholarships would help families access a variety of state-approved education-related expenses, such as textbooks, curriculum, tutoring, non-public school tuition, and vocational education. The House is working on passing its companion legislation, and Gov. Kim Reynolds has stated she will sign the bill if it reaches her desk.
Iowa also has a tax-credit scholarship program that offers tax credits to donors supporting school tuition organizations, nonprofits that provide private school scholarships to students in need.
In 2019, Minnesota had an opportunity to help its students in need through a similar tax-credit scholarship program — the Equity and Opportunity Scholarship Act — but it was removed from the session’s final education omnibus bill.
The Badger State’s special needs scholarship program helps students with disabilities attend a private school. Participating students must have an active Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
There is also a statewide voucher program for low-income students, a voucher program specifically for low-income families in Racine, and a voucher program for lower-income Milwaukee students — which was the pioneering school voucher program in the country.
South Dakota has a tax-credit scholarship program that helps families afford to send their children to participating private schools.
Have these programs “defunded” the public schools? Of course not. School choice programs do not spur underfunding of public schools. In fact, school choice programs have a positive impact on public schools and the students who remain.
Parental empowerment is not a partisan matter. Seventy-seven percent of parents support ESAs, including 75 percent of Democrats. Let state leaders know that Minnesota parents deserve control and flexibility over their education dollars through an ESA program.