In 2023, the Iowa Legislature must pass a bill providing a substantial, if not universal, expansion of parental choice in education.
This is the third editorial this publication has written supporting school choice for parents. We care deeply about this issue and we recognize we are a minority among news outlet editorial boards in the state to support school choice making this third editorial necessary.
In 2021, we applauded the initial effort by the Iowa Senate to give parents educational choice. In 2022, we urged Iowa House Republicans to step up and back the educational savings account bill passed by the Iowa Senate.
That bill died without a vote in the Iowa House.
An election cycle has passed that saw several incumbent Republicans, who opposed education savings accounts, lose their primaries, and Republicans expand their majorities in the Iowa House and Senate.
Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to make school choice a significant component of her legislative agenda, if not the centerpiece when she gives her Condition of the State address next week.
There has not been a better time for the Iowa Legislature to vote to act to give parents a greater choice.
To be clear, while Iowa has not been without school choice, it has been far from providing universal school choice.
Iowa’s School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credit created in 2006 has helped bolster donations to those organizations to provide scholarships for families who need financial assistance. Donors to STOs receive a 75 percent state income tax credit and can also claim a portion of their donation as a charitable contribution on their Federal income tax.
According to the Iowa Alliance of Choice in Education, between 2006 and 2020. the STO Program distributed just under $186 million to students, allowing them to afford the school of their choice. Over 12,000 students in Iowa receive scholarships every year as a result of that program.
In 2021-2022, the Iowa Department of Education reported that 36,636 students enrolled in an accredited non-public school, so approximately one-third of students enrolled qualify for and receive an STO scholarship.
While the STO tax credit program opened the door for many families to attend a private school, it only scratches the surface of families who may want to send their student to private school, but can’t afford it.
Not every family can afford to sacrifice to send their child to private school, and not every family can home educate with the financial sacrifice that also requires.
Currently, in Iowa, we have an educational system where only wealthier families and some lower-income families, through scholarships, can choose private education.
It is time for state dollars to follow students. Education Savings Accounts allow families a choice from a cafeteria of options by placing funds in an account they control.
It is time to fund students, not a system that traps students in schools that may not be right for them.