Gov. Reynolds signs ‘Students First Act’ into law

The bill requires the state to pay for students’ private school tuition
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 2:31 PM CST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KWQC) - Governor Kim Reynolds signed into law the ‘Students First Act’ Tuesday.

The plan allows any Iowa student who wants to attend a private school to use public money to pay for tuition or other expenses. Iowa is the third state to pass a measure that allows such spending with few restrictions.

The law establishes ‘Education Savings Accounts’ with about $7,600 for families to cover private school expenses. It also gives public school districts about $1,205 per student regardless of where they go to school, according to the Governor’s office this is to offset any lost funding.

Her plan will be phased in a three-year period.

Starting in 2023-24, all public school students will be eligible for these funds, along with currently enrolled private school students, whose parents make 300% of the federal poverty level or less.

Then in 2024-25, that expands to families making 400% of the federal poverty level or less.

Finally, in 2025-26 the funds will be available to all students regardless of income level.

The Iowa Senate passed the bill early Tuesday morning in a 31 to 18 vote. The Iowa House passed the bill Monday with a 55 to 45 vote. Legislators in Des Moines voted mostly along party lines.

Notably, State Representative Gary Mohr from Bettendorf joined 11 other Republicans in both chambers in voting against the act.

State Representative Ken Croken, D-Davenport, said the law will create an imbalance in the state’s education.

“It’s going to create a system where the preferred choice would be the private school, and the public school system may well evolve into the education system of last resort,” said Croken.

Meanwhile, Republican State Representative Luana Stoltenberg, R-Davenport, argues it will benefit both private and public schools.

“It allows people to make that choice without having so much sacrifice,” Stoltenberg said. “It also is helping those public schools ... they’re still able to grab those dollars, even when that student isn’t any longer in that school.”

Hoping over to the Senate, State Senator Cindy Winckler, D-Davenport, said this simply isn’t the right way to use public funds.

‘What the bill actually does instead, is take money, shift the resources that we have in the state and shift them to private schools,” Winckler said. “[They] do not have to follow any of the same regulation in admitting all students ... being accountable for the way in which they spend their money.”

However, Stoltenberg said it will improve education by giving parents a choice in their children’s schooling.

“[Parents] didn’t want to have to mask their children,” Stoltenberg said. “They didn’t want interruptions in schools, and so we listened. I thought we would make it a broader base so that they could have more choice.”

The ‘Students First Act’ went into effect immediately after Governor Reynolds signed it.

“For the first time, we will fund students instead of a system ensuring that every child in Iowa can receive the best education possible,” Reynold said during a signing ceremony.

The passage of the bill comes as Jan. 22 marks the start of ‘National School Choice Week.’