2015 School Choice Series: The Midwest (West North Central)

Noodle’s 2015 series provides a state-by-state overview of school choice options. In this article, you'll find descriptions of the available options in each of the West North Central states, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research.

Whether you’re an advocate or a critic of school choice, it only directly affects you if it’s an option where you live.

Noodle has put together a state-by-state overview of school choice options in 2015. You can find descriptions of the available options, relevant state and regional news items and debates, and resources for further research. This article focuses on the West North Central states: Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. You can also follow this link to learn more about what school choice is.

School Choice in Iowa

In Iowa, parents have two private school choice options. The first is the Education Expense Credit, which gives parents a tax credit of up to $250 dollars for education-related expenses. The second option is a school tuition tax credit for individuals who donate to School Tuition Organizations, which raise tuition grant funds to support eligible students who enroll in accredited private schools.

Iowa has just three charter schools, with fewer than 300 students enrolled. The state has open enrollment options for interdistrict and intradistrict public schools. It also has limited online schools, which offer supplemental courses. The online school programs include: Iowa Learning Online, Iowa Online AP Academy, and the Kirkwood High School Distance Learning Program.

As is the case for school choice in every state, there are parents and politicians on both sides of the issue. Advocates of school choice in Iowa call the state a "national leader," while opponents worry that school choice causes public schools to lose resources and suffer in quality, and that a focus on test scores limits children's natural curiosity.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Kansas

Kansas recently passed legislation allowing tax credit scholarships (of up to $8,000) to enroll in a private school if the student's home district is failing. It is expected that 35,000 students will make use of the scholarships in the program’s first year.

There is also limited interdistrict open enrollment. Parents cite a variety of reasons for transferring to a new school across district lines, including diversity, special needs, and academics.

Other school choice options include online schools, magnet schools, and some charters.

Recent proposed legislation aimed at fixing funding inequities among school districts has led to controversies concerning teacher training and contracts, among other issues.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Minnesota

Minnesota has a burgeoning school choice program that offers tax credits and deductions for families who have students in private schools; choice among magnets schools, charter schools, and public online schools; and public neighborhood schools. Many parents are happy with the multiple options available throughout the state, including themed magnet schools and options for students with special needs.

Minnesota employs interdistrict open enrollment, a choice that has arguably increased the state's gifted programs, as parents reportedly transfer their children to schools that have the resources their children need.

Education is a huge legislative issue, particularly concerning funding, governance, and testing — the last of which the state’s large teachers union has sought to limit. Additionally, controversies about the sources of funding for elected school board positions have recently come to the fore.

In Minneapolis, the chasm between low- and high-income students is especially stark, with the latter group making their way to high-achieving schools and the former often left struggling in weaker schools. Recent efforts have sought to bridge this gap via family engagement and even door-to-door canvassing.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Missouri

Missouri has about 30 magnet schools, which are theme-based public schools meant to attract students interested in particular areas of specialization. The state also has 38 charter schools and an online education program — the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program — in addition to online programs in individual districts.

The state does not have a private school choice program, nor does it employ vouchers or tax credits for students enrolled in private school. It does offer open enrollment for both intradistrict and interdistrict transfers. These transfers, however, are fraught with controversies, including funding and transportation issues, as well as problems relating to the lack of accreditation of some schools.

New learning standards and related testing are now being implemented across the state.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in Nebraska

At present, Nebraska does not have many school choice options. The state has yet to pass laws allowing charter schools or private school voucher programs. It does, however, have online school choice options, including the Nebraska Educational Virtual Academy (for supplemental education) as well as a few district-run online programs. The state also employs interdistrict open enrollment.

Though the state does not have school choice options for charters or vouchers, these possibilities are on the table in the legislature. One bill, for instance, concerns tax credits for private school tuition. Advocacy and parent groups are pushing for much broader choice across the state.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in North Dakota

North Dakota has very few school choice options. Without private school or charter school programs, its options include only limited online schooling and interdistrict open enrollment.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a school choice proponent, recently gave North Dakota the lowest grade in the nation for its school choice policies. Recent legislation that would have allowed private school vouchers was soundly defeated in the state legislature. Lawmakers appear to be in strong support of the state's public school system.

Resources for Further Research

School Choice in South Dakota

South Dakota does not have a private school choice program, and it is one of only a few states without a charter school law in place. The state has limited online school options via the South Dakota Virtual School. It has both interdistrict and intradistrict open enrollment.

South Dakota scored low in both academics and education policy on the American Legislative Exchange Council's nationwide assessment on school quality. The school choice advocacy group gave South Dakota an F in private school choice options. The Council is, however, biased toward school choice, so opponents might rank South Dakota differently; school choice challengers argue that South Dakota supports its public school system.

Resources for Further Research

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