Iowa School Vouchers are Unconstitutional

Senate Study Bill 3080 has been approved by the Education Committee and recommended for passage. This bill should not be allowed to pass as the provisions it creates are unconstitutional.

Julius Perez, Opinion Editor

The public debate of the Iowa Senate’s Senate Study Bill 3080 has been largely about whether or not it takes much needed money away from Iowan public schools. But alternative arguments for why the bill should not become law have begun developing. 

The bill creates a scholarship program that potentially allows 10,000 Iowan students scholarships of about $5,200 to attend private or home-school. While this bill, in an anticipated but still appalling way, could further dilute the already stretched thin funding that Iowan public schools have, it is also against the Constitution. 

The bill’s scholarship program allocates tax-payer money for Iowa students to attend religious schools; schools where religious rhetoric is preached, and students are often required to take religious classes and attend mass. If this sounds like a breach of the sacred line dividing church and state, that’s because it is. The Establishment Clause ensures that our government can make no law respecting the establishment of a religion. Using tax-payer money to facilitate indoctrination by allowing parents to send their students to private religious schools is an example of effective promotion of religion by the Iowa State Government.

Lemon v. Kurtzman I (1971) states that the First Amendment prohibits the government from providing funds to church-run schools. This case created the Lemon Test, which uses three distinct criteria to determine whether or not a law breaches the separation of church and state. Firstly, it must have a secular purpose. Secondly, it must have a principal or primary effect that does not advance or inhibit religion. And lastly, it cannot foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

An argument could be made that Bill 3080 has a secular purpose, as the vouchers are not intended solely for religious private schools. However, the bill creates the conditions for public funds to be used in a non-secular way. Additionally, the bill has to pass all three prongs in order to be considered valid, and as confirmed earlier, the law would advance religion. This disqualifies the bill automatically, but it also does not pass the third part of the test. Again, the bill outlines a program that allows government, tax-payer money to be used for students to go to private religious schools, a clear cut example of an entanglement between government and religion.The bottom line is that Senate Study Bill 3080 should be voided, it violates the Establishment Clause in a wildly inappropriate use of public funds. The goals of Republican lawmakers and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds should not be an unconstitutional enhancement of private education, as this bill would be, but instead should lie in guiding understaffed public schools in their navigation out of the pandemic and back into normalcy, and providing them with all the help they can.