DES MOINES – Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds shared in detail her plan to give parents more choice in their child’s education by awarding Students First Scholarships to eligible low and middle-income families during a press conference at Saint Theresa Catholic School in Des Moines.
The Governor’s bill proposes that a portion of per pupil funding would follow eligible students who withdraw from public school to help cover qualifying expenses such as tuition and fees at the school of their choice. Students who are currently enrolled in a public school or will be starting Kindergarten are eligible for the scholarship if their household income is 400% of the federal level or if the student has an individualized educational plan (IEP). The criteria allows children from families of all backgrounds and income levels to attend the school that best meets their needs.
“There are high-quality public schools across Iowa that are meeting the needs of the students and families they serve, but some parents believe their children would do best in a different learning environment,” state Gov. Reynolds. “In many cases, those options belong exclusively to those who can afford them. I believe more families deserve a choice, which is why I’ve introduced a bill that empowers low and middle-income parents and raises the bar for all schools.”
If a student chooses to leave a public school, 70% of the per pupil funding, which amounts to $5,359, would be deposited into an education savings account (ESA). The remaining 30% would be allocated by the state to smaller, often rural public school districts. This is in addition to the public school funding generated by local and federal taxes, which would remain with the original public school, despite the school no longer having responsibility for the scholarship student’s education.
The Governor’s bill also supports transparency and requires public schools to post course syllabuses, materials and library books online. A review process for any questionable materials in libraries already exists, but this bill provides more transparency of the review process and adds a 30-day timeline with the ability to appeal the decision to the state’s Board of Educational Examiners.
Also included in the Governor’s bill is a requirement that all high school students pass the Civics portion of the U.S. Naturalization Service Test to be able to graduate high school. The bill also eliminates the requirement for PK-12 librarians to have a Master’s degree and eliminates the need for AEA approval to place students receiving special education services in private instruction.
Education is the single largest line item on the state’s balance sheet, accounting for more than 56% of the entire state budget. Since fiscal year 2012, Republican leaders have had a strong record of increasing school funding year-over-year for a total increase of $1.12 billion. Since fiscal year 2018, under Governor Reynolds’ leadership and a Republican-controlled Legislature, Iowa’s total public education budget has increased by nearly $500 million.