Iowa school voucher overflow raises concerns some students may be left behind

Private schools say they’ll still accept special needs, LGBT students amid fears some may be denied admission
KCRG-TV9 State Capitol Reporter Conner Hendricks looked at the approval process at two schools to see which students may or may not be accepted.
Published: Aug. 18, 2023 at 6:22 PM CDT
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DES MOINES, Iowa - When Iowa’s “Students First Education Savings Account” program was introduced, critics sounded the alarm that certain students may be denied entry into certain private schools. Two Iowa private schools say that’s not the case. .

The state received nearly 30,000 applications for those vouchers. Jennifer Raes principal at St. Anthony Catholic School in Des Moines says since the voucher bill passed, enrollment has increased by about ten percent. Raes says many parents tell her they always wanted to check out a private school, but the cost was a hindrance.

“Parents just want to find the right fit for them, you know with anything, whether it’s your hairdresser, if it’s not going well, go try out another one. You know, you want to find the right fit for yourself and parents didn’t want to have that choice for schools, and when you’re limited to a school that’s based on just where your home is positioned. That’s difficult, you don’t have a choice.,” Raes said.

Though St. Anthony is a religiously affiliated school, Raes says her school would accept an LGBT student, but notes students will be taught according to the Catholic faith.

Josh Bowar, head of Sioux Center Christian School says they usually get around five to ten new students, but this year they’re getting 30. Bowar says they try to accommodate students with special needs.

Another barrier critics say could impact a student’s ability to attend a private school - cost. Raes says the state of Iowa has programs to help lower-income families afford tuition.