Gov. Kim Reynolds promotes Educational Savings Accounts for private school costs in a video released May 31, 2023. (Screenshot from governor’s office video)
Over 5,000 families applied for state aid for private school expenses before the end of the first day of the application period, according to the governor’s office.
Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the launch for education savings accounts, which provide state aid for private school expenses, in a video Wednesday morning.
“I believe that school choice will improve our overall education experience in Iowa,” Reynolds said in the video. “I believe it will create a system of schools, both public and private, that are driven by student-centered missions.”
Applications can be submitted at educateiowa.gov. The application period runs until June 30 at 11:59 p.m.
Sitting atop the governor’s goals for the year, education savings accounts were passed by the Iowa Legislature this spring, but not without contention.
The program was signed into law Jan. 24, just 15 days after the start of the 2023 session and after nearly 10 hours of debate in the House and Senate.
As previously reported by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, critics of the new program argue public schools, especially in rural areas will be harmed.
Some critics argue that education savings accounts are not reflective of what the people of Iowa want, and legislators are ignoring their constituents’ wishes.
“Iowans are overwhelmingly opposed to vouchers because public money is for public schools and they do not want more public schools to close,” House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst said in a statement Wednesday. “For families that attend one of the 75% of public schools in a rural area without access to a private school, there is no new ‘choice’ for them, it only means fewer opportunities for their kids. Democrats will continue to hold the governor and Republican politicians accountable at every turn until they drop the politics and start listening to Iowans.”
Auditor of State Rob Sand, a Democrat, has also spoken out against the program, arguing that it has little oversight as to how the private schools spend the government money they receive.
Sand released a statement a day before the bill was signed into law pointing out public schools are required to have open meetings, produce public records and are audited annually, and private schools are not bound by those rules.
“Whether you call them ESAs or vouchers, as Iowa’s taxpayer watchdog I am alarmed by the intentional lack of transparency and accountability under the proposed legislation,” Sand tweeted a day before the bill passed. “This bill provides no rules for how private school use these funds. After a private school gets public dollars as tuition, they could buy a teacher or teachers brand new Ford Mustang convertibles in the name of incentive pay.”
Iowa families with an income equal to or below 300% the federal poverty line may now register to receive $7,598 per student to send their children to a school of their choice, including private schools.
The poverty line for a family of four is $30,000, meaning families with an income of $90,000 or less are eligible for the program in the first year, according to federalregister.gov. In the second year, the threshold is raised to 400% of the poverty line, and in the third year the program is open to all families, regardless of income.
Starting in the first year of the program, all kindergarten students are eligible for the program.
The application process starts on the Department of Education’s website, and applicants will be redirected to Odyssey, a New York education technology company hired in February to manage the educational savings account program.
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