The Governor’s education bill was introduced in the Iowa legislature on Tuesday, February 1. We appreciate the Governor’s continued commitment to expanding options for parents and students and her willingness to highlight the rights of parents to direct their child’s education.
In her annual Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa legislature on January 11, Governor Reynolds said, “We want to ensure our small schools stay strong while, at the same time, empowering parents to choose what’s best for their child.”
Through “Student First Scholarships,” Reynolds states she wants every school to be the best it can be as she believes school choice programs can increase the quality of all schools.
“When our schools succeed, Iowa becomes a destination of choice for parents everywhere,” she explained.
Her bill, SSB 3080/HSB 672 follows up on that support by creating an Education Savings Account program that will serve Iowa families well. Although we have not always supported every provision of every school choice bill, and we will seek a couple of changes and clarifications to this year’s bill, we are grateful that Governor Reynolds continues to champion parental choice and students’ rights in education. No one school fits every type of child, and this bill will go a long way to ensure every parent and student has the option that best meets their needs.
Here is how the ESA aspect of this bill will be applied as written:
- To qualify, families must have their student(s) enrolled in a public school in the previous school year, have a household income of less than 400% of the federal poverty level, or have a student with an individual education plan (IEP).
- Those who qualify are eligible to receive 70 percent of the state’s per-pupil funding for educational expenses (currently $5,359). The remaining 30 percent will go to bolster smaller school district budgets.
- Scholarships will cap at 10,000 during the first year of implementation (2022-2023 school year) and distributed evenly between the two eligibility groups. If one group does not use all the funding and the other has a waitlist, the remainder will be awarded to those applicants.
We have declared our support for the bill on the Iowa Legislature’s website and will be championing the passage of an ESA this year. There are other ESA bills, including Rep. Wheeler’s HF 2223, that are gold-standard ESA proposals, and we will support taking the best pieces of each bill and creating a program that is as universal and accessible as possible.
The Iowa Association of Christian Schools asks the following:
- Remove the means-testing (400% of poverty level) requirement. The cap on the total number of scholarships is enough. This threshold excludes many middle-class families, especially those with multiple children, as the gap between the ESA and tuition will still leave them priced out. The STO scholarships allow for lower income families to enroll in the accredited private school of their choice, but we are losing middle class families who cannot afford to stay without help. Duplicating the threshold for the ESA does not help them.
- Add language that at least starts the process of including families currently enrolled in nonpublic schools.
If we do not get those changes this year, we will be back to get those changes in the future. It is time for nonpublic school families and those who support school choice to join us in support this year, knowing this is a multi-step process. The bills introduced this year are supportable, student-centered, and advance parental rights in education.