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Rep. Steven Holt

Rep. Steven Holt

Freedom Watch 01/18/23
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
Misconceptions & Truth about
the Governor’s Students First Act
In last week’s edition of Freedom Watch I outlined the Governor’s STUDENTS FIRST ACT. In this week’s edition, I will provide additional information, including misconceptions and truths about School Choice, including data from other states that have similar policies in place to the proposals we are considering.

Misconception: Public money should not be used for private schools.
Truth: Taxpayer money, often referred to in this discussion as public money, already goes to many private entities all over the state and nation. We do not require WIC or SNAP recipients to use public grocery stores. Medicare recipients are not forced to use only public hospitals. Here in Iowa, the Iowa Tuition Grant has been used for years to fund students going to private colleges. The Governor’s school choice proposals look very similar to the Iowa Tuition Grant, but for K-12 education. Iowa Tuition Grants allow Iowa students to have more choices and access when they select the university or college that best fits their needs. This is not much different from the Governor’s proposal for K-12 students, creating more choices for students and parents.

Misconception: School Choice will deny funding for public schools.
Truth: Under the Governor’s plan, for the first time, public schools will receive approximately $1,205 for every student from their district that is attending a private school. This has never been the case before. This amount will increase as categorical funding is increased. In the first year that a family chooses to send their child to a private school and receive this funding, public schools will still get the $7,598 they normally receive for a student, even though the student chooses to attend a private school. The state in effect will double-pay the first year, which will minimize any funding disruptions for public schools. After year one, the public school would continue to receive the approximately $1,205 in categorical funding from the state, even though the student is enrolled in a private school, but will no longer receive the $7,598, since those funds are following the child to the accredited school that best fits their needs. This means that the costs normally associated with that student will also leave the public school, with the public school now receiving the $1,205 for every student going to a private school.

The Governor’s proposals also allow public school districts more flexibility in being able to use some categorical funding to increase teacher salaries.

Misconception: Data shows that school choice does not improve student outcomes.
Truth: As is the case with almost every controversial issue, you can find data to support both sides of an argument. However, I believe the data on school choice convincingly shows that both private and public-school outcomes improve where school choice is present. The vast majority of studies support this conclusion. One study I reviewed reported that out of 17 studies of school choice participants, eleven reported an increase in student outcomes, four reported no change and only two reported negative effects. At the end of my newsletter, I will include several links to articles that show the positive outcomes of school choice.

Studies also suggest that when school choice is present, civic engagement increases, and parental satisfaction improves. Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor at Stanford University, found positive effects on the teaching profession from school choice programs.

Misconception: Private Schools do not take special needs students.
Truth: Studies show that a large percentage of students in private schools in Arizona, where school choice programs have existed for over two decades, have special needs. There are also special needs students in Iowa’s private schools. Additionally, once private schools have access to increased funding with the creation of school choice, they would likely be able to increase their support of students with special needs.

Misconception: Private Schools discriminate against certain students while public schools take all students.
Truth: While it is certainly true that public schools take almost all students, private schools exist to meet a variety of needs of families who want something other than what public schools offer. Perhaps it is a more faith-based approach, perhaps it is a focus on a certain academic specialty. If a need exists following the passage of school choice in Iowa, private schools are likely to be formed to meet those needs. Specialization is not discrimination but rather a different approach to meet the ever-changing needs of students.

Misconception: Accredited private schools lack accountability requirements.
Truth: Accredited private schools have numerous annual reporting requirements, which include:
-Enrollment numbers
-Gender and ethnicity of students
-Bullying data
-Accreditation requirements (health, safety, etc.)
-Reports to accrediting agencies which include teacher certifications, safety drills, progress on school improvement plans, independent audit/assessment of financials, and adherence to all laws related to nonpublic schools
-Title funding usage data and details
– Annual reports to parents and constituents that include financial data and student assessment scores. Answering to parents is the most important measure of accountability, for parents can measure success for their children far better than government agencies ever could.

Misconception: School Choice will destroy or weaken public schools.
Truth: This is the most misleading of all the claims made in opposition to school choice programs. In states such as Arizona, where aggressive school choice programs have existed for over twenty years, only about 5% of students attend private schools. On average it is a very small percentage of students who leave public schools for private schools when these programs go into effect (1-3%). Of those percentages, even smaller amounts leave rural public schools. There is not a single public school in the nation that has closed its doors because of school choice.

If in fact, a huge number of students were to leave public schools to attend accredited private schools, then it becomes profoundly clear just how important it was that we gave parents greater choice, since such an exodus would lay bare the reality that these schools were not meeting the needs of our students.

Myth: School choice is an attack on public-school teachers.
Truth: Iowa is blessed to have many resolute public-school teachers doing their best to meet the needs of their students in an environment that worsens by the day. They have lost most of the tools necessary to maintain discipline in the classroom, and the breakdown of our families has forced schools to take on an ever-increasing level of responsibility, with teachers having to deal with behavioral issues that make their jobs incredibly challenging. We should pray for our teachers every day, while working to find ways to help them be more successful. We must also reject the arguments of special interest groups that seek to confuse the issues before us. School choice does not in any way take away from the work our public-school teachers are doing. Ultimately, we must not simply fund the status quo if we are to improve education. It is past time to fund our students, not the education establishment.

We can support public education and public-school teachers, while also embracing positive change. Let’s choose our students and families over the education bureaucracy that seeks to protect itself by rejecting innovative ideas that will improve education for all.

Myth: The state cannot afford school choice.
Truth: Statement from the Speaker of the Iowa House, Pat Grassley: “I’ve heard some people cite concerns about the cost of HSB 1. As former Appropriations chair, I can assure you that we would not pass any plan that our state cannot afford. House Republicans have a reputation at the Capitol for being very cautious when it comes to the state budget. This has not changed. When fully implemented in FY 29, the projected cost of this program is $341 million. In the same year, the state is projected to spend $3.9 BILLION on public education. Given current projections, in that same year the state will have a $3.1 BILLION ending balance and $3.7 BILLION in the Taxpayer Relief Fund. Ultimately, $341 million amounts to just 4% of the state’s annual budget. This program is not an existential threat to public education. Iowa can afford HSB 1.”

I look forward to Republicans in the House and Senate taking decisive action soon to bring school choice to Iowa by passing HSB1, the Governor’s STUDENTS FIRST ACT.

I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can email me at


The evidence is clear – education choice improves outcomes | Education |

3 Reasons to Support School Choice – Foundation for Economic Education (


Freedom Watch 01/11/23
A legislative update from Representative Steven Holt
Empowering Parents: It’s Time for School Choice
As I write my first newsletter of the 90th General Assembly, I could not be more excited by the priorities Governor Reynolds and Republicans in the House and Senate will advance in the 2023 legislative session. The Governor has outlined an ambitious agenda that includes universal school choice in Iowa as well as measures to make our public schools stronger, in addition to continuing to stand up for common sense and the founding principles that have made our state and nation successful. In this edition of Freedom Watch, I will outline the Governor’s STUDENTS FIRST ACT.

Parental choice in education and improving public schools will be one of the top priorities for Republicans this session. The House commitment to get this done is clearly evident in the creation of a special Education Reform Committee, with its members being the leadership of the House – Speaker Pat Grassley, House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl and Speaker Pro Tempore John Wills, as well as the Democrat Minority Leader. The sense of urgency on this issue is also apparent, as the Governor’s STUDENTS FIRST ACT (HSB 1) was our very first bill and was assigned the day after the Governor’s Condition of the State address.

Key provisions of the STUDENTS FIRST ACT include:

  • Parents who choose to enroll their children in an accredited private school will receive $7,598 for approved educational expenses, the amount of per pupil funding currently allocated annually by the state for each student. Parents can use these funds for tuition, fees, and other qualified expenses at an accredited private school. This funding will flow through a system that never places the funds directly into the parent’s hands, but rather goes straight to the educational institution.
  • Other student funding generated by categorical state funding formulas will remain with public school districts. It is estimated that Iowa’s public schools will retain about $1,205 per pupil in categorical funding for each student who resides in their district but chooses to attend a private school. Since public schools currently receive no funding for students enrolled in a private school, this would be an increase in funding.
  • In the first year that a family chooses to send their child to a private school and receive this funding, public schools will still get the $7,598 they normally receive for a student, even though the student chooses to attend a private school. The state in effect will double-pay the first year, which will minimize any funding disruptions for public schools. This is also made necessary by federal requirements related to how public-school students are counted each year. After year one, the public school would continue to receive approximately $1,205 in categorical funding from the state, even though the student is enrolled in a private school, but will no longer receive the $7,598, since those funds are following the child to the accredited school that best fits their needs. It is past time that we fund the student in a way that will help ensure the best educational outcome.
  • All students currently attending public school and kindergarten would be eligible for this program in the 2023-24 school year.
  • For students already attending an accredited private school, the program would be phased in over a period of three years. In Year 1 (2023-24), accredited private school students at or below 300% of the federal poverty level would be eligible ($83,250 income for a family of four). In Year 2 (2024-25), accredited private school students at or below 400% of the federal poverty level would qualify ($111,000 income for a family of four). In Year 3 (2025-26), all students, regardless of income, would qualify. Let’s remember that we all pay taxes for education, even those citizens that do not have children. Those taxes are paid to the state regardless of income. I believe, therefore, that it is fair that every parent, regardless of income, should have the opportunity to use this system to send their child to an educational institution that best fits their needs.
  • The bill also gives public school districts the flexibility to use unspent and ongoing funding from Teacher Leadership and Compensation, Professional Development, and Talented & Gifted categorical funds for increasing teacher salaries. There is currently almost $100 million statewide in unspent funds in these categorical accounts and almost $250 million is allocated to them each year.

Public education funding in Iowa has grown over a billion dollars since Fiscal Year 2012. Unfortunately, some of our public schools are not serving our students well. Teachers, parents, and students are reporting egregious discipline problems in some schools, and a small number are listed as failing schools due to plummeting scores.

Unfortunately, it is also true that some of our public schools have now embraced an ideology that they in fact own the children and know better than parents. Parents that challenge the indoctrination of their students in Anti-American ideology and LGBT objectives that are contrary to their values are increasingly ignored and villainized by a growing number of school districts in Iowa. I know this because I have received hundreds of emails and spoken to numerous parents frustrated and frightened for the future of their children and their country. They are often ignored, berated, silenced, and in some cases villainized by arrogant school personnel who consider themselves “professionals” who can dismiss the concerns of parents. This is not only wrong; it is profoundly dangerous for the future of our Republic. Government institutions do not own our children and have no right to inject themselves between children and parents by assaulting the values of families and ignoring the authority of parents.

In a growing number of our public schools, obviously obscene books that have no place in a school library because they are not age-appropriate are defended and usually kept on the shelves by a process stacked against concerned parents. Meanwhile, some teachers in these districts gleefully promote these books to their students, in defiance of the concerns of parents.

Some schools choose to ignore prohibitions against the teaching of Critical Race Theory, with school officials caught on tape bragging about how they work around the law to advance their agenda. The Board of Education has had the opportunity to enforce the law and hold wrongdoers accountable; unfortunately, they have chosen not to do so.

I have stated repeatedly in my newsletters that superintendents and administrators doing it right should speak to those doing it wrong in Iowa, which could have resulted in self-reflection and a course correction. Unfortunately, this either has not happened, or the warnings have not been heeded. Combine these facts with the need to ensure that students are allowed to flourish in an educational setting that best fits their needs and the path is clear: we must fundamentally change how we fund education, and that begins with funding the student, as opposed to funding the educational establishment.

The hysteria that School Choice will destroy, or damage public schools is not supported by facts, as states with aggressive school choice programs in place for over two decades see only about 5% of students attend private schools. If in fact, a huge number of students were to leave public schools to attend accredited private schools, then it becomes profoundly clear just how important it was that we gave parents greater choice, since such an exodus would lay bare the reality that these schools were failing our students. I believe that most of our public schools are doing it right, and for those that are not, the wake-up call is coming.

Discussions have just begun and changes to this plan are possible as we move through the process, but I am committed to passing school choice, in addition to education reforms to make our public schools stronger and better, since the vast majority of our students will continue to attend public schools. For many in rural districts happy with their schools and great teachers, because they are doing it right, you can rest assured, in spite of the coming hysteria, that school choice options in other states have improved education outcomes in both public and private schools.

I will leave you with excerpts from Education as a Battlefield by Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn. In future newsletters, I will highlight other proposals to improve public schools and return accountability to parents, as well as our efforts to reform property taxes and push back on the extreme leftist agenda that threatens our families and the future of our Republic.

I am honored to serve as your State Representative. You can email me at

Excerpts from Education as a Battleground
Larry P. Arnn (President, Hillsdale College)
“Public education is as old as our nation – but only lately has it adopted the purpose of supplanting the family and controlling parents.

One can look in history or in literature to see the danger of where the idea of supplanting the family might lead. Study the education practices that existed in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and that exist today in Communist China. Or read the terrifying account in Orwell’s 1984. They tell us that children, by distorting their natural desire to grow up and end their dependence, can be recruited to the purposes of despotic regimes, even to the extent of denouncing their parents to the state.

We do not yet have this in America. But we do have children being turned against their country by being indoctrinated to look on its past – of which all parents, of course, are in some way a part – as a shameful time of irredeemable injustice. We also increasingly have children being encouraged to speak of their sexual proclivities at an age when they can hardly think of them.

To cite just one example, Christopher Rufo has discovered, on the website of the Michigan Department of Education, detailed instructions for how teachers should open the question with students of their sexual orientation – or maybe I should say sexual direction, since “orientation” implies something constant, whereas children are now being taught that sexuality is “fluid” and can take them anywhere.

Also on the website are detailed instructions on how to keep this activity from parents. And as we learned last year, when parents get angry, the FBI is likely to become interested.

Who “owns” the child then? The choice is between the parents, who have taken the trouble to have and raise the child – and who, in almost all cases, will give their lives to support the child for as long as it takes and longer – or the educational bureaucracy, which is more likely than a parent to look upon the child as an asset in a social engineering project to rearrange government and society.

The revolutionary force behind this social engineering project is a set of ideas installed in just about every university today. Its smiting arm is the administrative state, an element of America’s ruling class. The administrative state has something over 20 million employees, many of them at the federal but most at the state level. Directly and indirectly, they make rules about half the economy, which means they affect all of it.

I have said and written many times that the political contest between parents and people who make an independent living, on the one hand, and the administrative state and all its mighty forces on the other, is the key political contest of our time. Today that seems truer than ever. The lines are clearly formed.

As long as representative institutions work in response to the public will, there is thankfully no need for violence. As the Declaration of Independence says, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”

The Declaration guides us in our peaceful pursuits, too. In naming the causes of the American Revolution, it gives a guide to maintaining free and responsible government. The long middle section of the Declaration accuses the King of interfering with representative government, violating the separation of powers, undermining the independence of the Judiciary, and failing to suppress violence.

And in an apposite phrase it says of the King: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

So it is today. And so it is our duty to defend our American way of life.”

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