Advocates of a “voucher” program, so state tax dollars “follow the student” to a public or private school, made their case to the governor late this afternoon.

Susan Fenton, a lobbyist for the Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, used the phrase “Educational Savings Accounts” rather than vouchers, but it’s the same concept. Parents would get state tax dollars and use that money to send their child to a public or a private school.

“An ESA program will allow true universal choice and inject the positive force of market competition into the Iowa educational system,” Fenton said.

Fenton spoke in Governor Branstad’s office, during a public hearing on the state budget. Fenton envisioned school vouchers being used for expenses beyond school tution, covering the costs of textbooks, tutoring and even fees for online courses.

Audra Meyers of Clive, a former principal at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Des Moines, told Branstad it’s time for “robust education choice” in Iowa.

“Education Savings Accounts would allow parents who are enrolling their children in a non-public school to receive state funding into a savings account and parents would be free to use those funds for a variety of educational choices that would meet their child’s specific needs,” Meyers said. “…Many families are not in a financial position to select the type of education that is best for their child. Instead, their address determines the education that their child will receive.”

Meyers, who also taught in a public school in the past, has two young children who are currently enrolled in two different Catholic schools in the Des Moines area.

Critics of school “vouchers” argue sending state tax dollars to private parochial schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. Governor Branstad and his wife sent their three children to Catholic schools in the Des Moines area.

Branstad told reporters after the hearing that he is a “strong supporter” of private schools, but Branstad said in a “tight budget’ year, there are “a lot of issues” to consider.

Others who testified at the hour-long public hearing made appeals for increased state funding in a variety of areas — from remodeling YMCA facilities to assistance for brain-injured Iowans.