February 04, 2023

Colfax-Mingo school board member says ‘Iowa cannot afford vouchers’

Mary Poulter speaks out against school choice bill at Capitol building

Marty Poulter, a member of the Colfax-Mingo school board.

Mary Poulter, a member of the Colfax-Mingo school board and a retired principal at Prairie City Elementary, spoke out against the governor’s school vouchers/educational savings accounts bill during a senate subcommittee meeting on Jan. 12 in the state capitol.

“Iowa cannot afford vouchers,” she said. “They will harm public school funding. Supplemental (State) Aid has not kept up with inflation. Schools have been underfunded. How can we take on more debt? Again, we talk about cutting taxes. Vouchers don’t really offer the parents choice. Private schools make that choice.”

Poulter also argued that public schools take in everyone and that private schools “don’t have to educate students with behavior issues” or other needs. The school board member recalled a student from Jasper County that wanted to attend private school but was turned down without a reason.

“This child was a child of color,” Poulter said. “How is that choice for these parents? No academic needs. No behavior. That was heartbreaking to me.”

The school board member and former educator also pointed out the challenges of accessible schooling, particularly in rural areas. School boards elected by community members oversee the school and the use of public funds, but Poulter said this practice is not accepted by private schools.

“The governor wants transparency for parents — which public schools provide — but transparency is not required in private schools,” she said. “Our public school students are achieving in high levels, and many, many graduate with college credits, as well as strong technical training.”

Which she said is due to the relationship between high schools and community colleges; pairing with the state’s community colleges “benefits everyone.” Poulter questioned the sustainability of the governor’s school choice proposal and asked where the money would even come from.

“In our small school district last summer, we spent $42,000 on a summer school program. We used our COVID money, our ESSER money. And that is how we were able to help some kids that were behind. Behind because of COVID, but also behind because of other reasons,” Poulter said.

To really improve the schools in Iowa, Poulter told lawmakers to see they are adequately funded and keep up or surpass with inflation every year.

“Listen to the majority of the constituents and vote against vouchers,” she said. “You may personally like them. You need to look at what the majority of Iowans want to do. We want to have strong public schools. And that is how we have them. Continue funding public schools. Let private schools continue as they have been.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.