After three years, an education savings account will be available for each student.
In 2023, current students in Catholic schools will be eligible for an account if their family income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, or $83,250 for a family of four. In 2024, eligibility will extend to families whose income is at or below 400% of the federal poverty level, or $111,000 for a family of four.
The program is expected to cost $345 million per year when fully implemented. Public schools will receive a small financial benefit for each student who participates in the program. Each student with a college savings account will mean an additional $1,205 for the public school district in which they reside.
Critics said the legislation harms public schools and will worsen equality in education by diverting funds. They objected that the program funds private schools that lack accountability and can pick and choose which students to accept, The Des Moines Register reported. They said there was no help for public school student expenses like tutors, advanced placement tests and college exam fees.
“Spending public money without accountability is unwise. Our public schools and our students deserve better,” State Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said Monday. “Until we are prepared to provide adequate funding to the vast majority of our public school students, we should not create an exclusive private school access program with unknown costs and unlimited funding – a blank cheque.”
The nonpartisan Legislative Services agency predicts 14,000 students will enroll in the program in its first year, with about 4,800 transferring from public to private schools. By fiscal year 2027, it projects nearly 41,700 students in the program, with public school enrollment declining from about 486,400 to 475,207. The agency expects a net decrease of 46 million dollars in funding due to enrollment changes, The Des Moines Register reported.
The agency said the cost of administering the program is unknown. The State of Iowa has not yet chosen a provider to manage and distribute the funds. It solicited proposals from companies with experience in running education savings account programs.
Iowa public schools serve more than 498,000 students. According to the Iowa Catholic Conference, Catholic schools in the state serve approximately 30,000 students. There are more than 45,800 students at 237 private schools in Iowa, the Private School Review reported. The average private school tuition is $4,800 for elementary schools and $9,200 for high schools.
By early 2023, eight more states had passed education savings account legislation, school choice advocacy group EdChoice said. Iowa and Utah have now joined their numbers. Similar legislation is being considered in 19 other states, according to the Educational Freedom Institute.