Iowa governor’s plan would let parents spend their taxpayer dollars for private schools

(The Center Square) – Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds has introduced legislation that would eventually allow all parents in the state to use their taxpayer dollars on private schools.

If passed by the state legislature, Iowa would be the ninth state in the U.S. to offer some form of education savings accounts, according to EdChoice.org.

“My school choice bill will create education savings accounts for families who choose to send their child to a private school,” Reynolds said. “The state will contribute $7,598 to that account, which is the amount of funding the state provides for each child who attends a public school.”

Reynolds said within three years, every family will be able eligible for the savings account.

“The Governor’s ESA [education savings account] proposal this year is an exciting proposal that will provide true choice in education to every Iowa child,” said Chris Hagenow, former state representative and president of Iowans for Tax Relief. “Private school options should be available to all Iowa students, regardless of income.”

The Iowa State Education Association criticized the bill.

“The bill does not include any transparency or accountability measures for private schools receiving the dollars,” the teachers union tweeted. “The bill also diverts essential funding for education away from our public schools.”

“The proposal gives selected parents a taxpayer-funded debit card loaded with state taxpayer dollars to use however they wish,” the ISEA stated on its website. “We agree that parents should have the choice to enroll their child in a private or religious school. But not with public taxpayer funds.

Education experts say education savings accounts appear to be a trend, that in part, has been spurred on by the pandemic.

Christian Barnard, senior education policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, said the pandemic created an awakening among some parents over their education options.

“A lot of families that weren’t thinking about their education options started thinking about them during the pandemic,” Barnard said.

Barnard said there are many forms of education savings accounts and the Iowa plan allows for universal access, which he said will make them more popular.

Colleen Hroncich, a policy analyst with Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, said the pandemic has played a part in the rise of education savings accounts.

Hroncich said parents saw during remote learning what was going on within traditional public schools “and they realized they could manage this on their own.”

“Things are becoming much more student focused,” Hroncich said. “People are realizing the one size fits all model doesn’t work. We live in a world where we customize everything. Education was very ‘one size fits all’ and a government-run monopoly. People are realizing we don’t have to do it this way anymore. For some kids, the local public schools work very well. For others it just doesn’t. It’s an exciting time.”

Corey DeAngelis, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children, said Iowa would join Arizona and West Virginia to pass a universal education savings account program.

“All eyes on Iowa this year when it comes to empowering families with school choice,” DeAngelis said. “The governor’s proposal is the gold standard of education freedom. All families, regardless of income, would be able to take their children’s education dollars to the education providers of their choosing starting in the third year. This victory would make Iowa a national leader on school choice.”

Parents For Great Iowa Schools, a parent volunteer organization, is opposed to the education savings accounts.

That group said rules and transparency must follow public money and that private schools don’t follow the same rules and transparency required of public schools. Parents For Great Iowa Schools stated that 240 of the 327 school districts in Iowa didn’t have a private school option in their district.

“Rural schools can’t afford to have tax dollars pulled away from their community schools to fund choice in other areas,” Parents For Great Iowa Schools stated.