Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs private school law into law

CALEB MCCULLOUGH Lee Des Moines Bureau

Surrounded by school choice advocates and private school students, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday signed sweeping legislation supporting private schooling.

The bill is the culmination of a three-year effort and marks an early victory in the governor’s top legislative priorities in session.

All public school students and thousands of private school students are now eligible for a $7,600 Education Savings Account to pay for tuition and other expenses at a private school. The program is expected to cost $107 million in its first year. Through fiscal 2027, the money is open to all students in public and private schools, regardless of income, and is expected to cost $345 million.

It was the first bill of the legislature to be signed to bring to Reynolds’ desk after a flurry of activity in the first two weeks.

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“For the first time, we’re funding students instead of a system,” Reynolds said. “We reject the idea that the answer to improving education is simply putting more money into the same system.”

Opponents of the bill say it will drain public schools, fund unaccountable private institutions and argue that private schools may turn away students with disabilities or families whose values ​​don’t match theirs.

In hours of debate Monday night, Democrats shared stories of students with disabilities being turned away from private schools and said much of the money would go to wealthy families who already pay for private schools.

“The law will withdraw essential funds from 92 percent of our student body and send the funds only to a select group of students admitted to private schools,” said Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, in a statement. “Tonight, some lawmakers ignored the wishes of most Iowans and voted to spend taxpayers’ money on private interests.”

Reynolds said the program is not at odds with public schools. Acknowledging that the vast majority of students are expected to remain in public schools, she said the bill will give school districts more freedom in how they use their state funds.

“Public schools are the foundation of our education system,” Reynolds said. “And for most families, they will continue to be the option of choice. But they are not the only choice. And for some families, another job may be better for their children.”

Reynolds said the state will publish the call for proposals for a third-party company to administer the state program today. Parents can sign up for updates on a new government website that will go live Tuesday.