Training begins for parents navigating the Education Savings Account program

By: - May 22, 2023 5:31 pm

Gov. Kim Reynolds signs the “Students First Act,” legislation establishing a private school scholarship program, into law Jan. 24, 2023 at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines after it passed in the early hours that day. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

As Iowa prepares to begin accepting applications for the Education Savings Account program, the state is offering parents training to help them navigate the application process.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has announced a slate of webinars to be hosted by Odyssey, the New York education technology company contracted to manage Iowa’s ESA program. The first of six online meetings will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 23, and the final event will be held at 7 p.m. on June 7. Families interested in participating in a webinar must sign up for the application trainings through the Iowa Department of Education’s website, the governor’s office said in a news release, and training will be recorded and made available to families unable to attend one of the virtual live sessions.

The state will accept families’ applications for ESA funds from May 31, through June 30. The accounts, to be used for private-school tuition and associated costs in the 2023-2024 school year, are available to all incoming kindergartners and current public K-12 students, as well as current private-school students with a family income of 300% or below the federal poverty line — meaning a household income of $74,580 for families of three, $90,000 or below for families of four, and $105,420 for families of five. That limit will be raised to 400% or below the FPL in the program’s second year and eliminated in year three.

Eligible families will be able to create an account of $7,635 for each student to pay for the cost of attending accredited private schools. The account matches Iowa’s per-pupil funding for public schools through State Supplemental Aid, which grew by 3% in 2023. Parents do not need to make separate applications if they have multiple children who will attend a private school in the upcoming school year, according to the Department of Education website, but parents will be able to request multiple accounts for their students in a single application.

Across the state, private institutions announced plans to raise tuition, some by as much as 40%, in response to the new program.

At Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque, non-Catholic students and Catholic students from parishes not supporting Holy Family Catholic Schools will have a tuition of $8,600 and $7,825 respectively in the upcoming school year. Tuition at Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines will also increase, to $9,588 for parish-participating students and to $13,416 for non-Catholic families.

In both of those cases, families who qualify and receive ESA funds may still have to pay hundreds or thousands out-of-pocket to make up any unpaid balance for the cost of attendance. In addition to the state funds, most private institutions also offer direct tuition-assistance programs.

Reynolds said on Iowa Press she was not concerned by private institutions’ moves to raise tuition.

“All schools are experiencing increased costs, we’ve had our public schools talk about it too,” Reynolds said. “The other component of it is, just typically, your private school educators were paid considerably less than public school teachers. And so this will allow them to maybe be a little bit more competitive.”

ESA funding will become available July 15, or 30 days after the application is verified and approved, according to the department. Only half of the funds, $3,817.50 this year, will be accessible initially. The other half will become available for use at a later date for spring-semester tuition.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.