Photo credit: Sarah Brooks

Iowa State Capitol December 2014School choice advocates have worked to see education savings accounts passed in Iowa since 2013.  Currently Iowa has two different options to empower parents’ education choice.  In 2006 Iowa created a school tuition organization tax credit which gives a tax credit to those who donate toward school tuition organizations who offer need-based scholarships for students attending accredited non-public schools.  That program has been expanded over the years.  Iowa since 1987 has also offered a tuition and textbook credit up to $250 for parents in accredited non-public and public schools to cover textbooks, tuition, lab and activity fees.

There has not been any tax credit or tax deduction allowed for home educators since the option was given legal status in the 1980s.

The education savings account (ESA) bills would have provided financial assistance to not only those in accredited non-public schools, but those who home school under Iowa’s competent private instruction law until this year.  The previous ESA bills filed in 2013 and 2014 contained language covering all types of school choice, much like what is offered in Arizona.

An ESA would be created through the Iowa Department of Management to allow parents to pay for qualified educational expenses.

Last year’s bill filed by State Representative Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights) listed qualified expenses through the program that included: tuition and fees at a nonpublic school, textbooks, fees or payments for educational therapies such as tutoring or cognative training, curriculum fees and materials for a course of study for a particular subject or grade, tuition and fees for nonpublic online education, education services and materials for students with disabilities including paraprofessionals and assistants who are trained in accordance with state law, standardized test fees, higher education costs associated with competent private instruction, as well as, the purchase of a computer or tablet (provided one had not been purchased using grant funds in the preceding two fiscal years).

This year’s bill, HSB 203,  filed in the Iowa House that is moving through committees does not include families who home school under competent private instruction.  It only includes students attending a non-public school and doesn’t start until July 1, 2017 starting with kindergarten.  A grade is added each following year until all grades K-12 are included by July 1, 2029.

State Representative Ron Jorgensen (R-Sioux City) who chairs the House Education Committee said the bill was drafted by House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer’s office.  Sources involved in the process have told Caffeinated Thoughts that the bill’s language is primarily due to Jorgensen and other House education committee members dragging their feet over budget concerns.

“This (bill) was in response to a clear indication from the caucus to move forward with something that increases the choices parents have for educating their children. Based on conversations with members, several changes were made to the previous version of the bill.” Upmeyer told Caffeinated Thoughts in an email.  “The change in regards to competent private instruction was made because of concerns with the strings that would end up being attached. This would likely threaten the autonomy and privacy of those who choose that path. Like many members, I’ve heard from home schooling parents directly many times that they just want to be left alone.”

“Increasing educational opportunities is a multi-pronged approach that remains a priority for this caucus. HSB 203 is one of several ways we believe we can advance the issue,” Upmeyer added.

Iowa currently has a $7 billion dollar budget and it has included spending increases for public education every year.  The Iowa Legislature will also be asked to provide new spending for assessments and other educational priorities.

A Senate version of the ESA bill which was co-sponsored by the entire Senate Republican Caucus – SF 240 does include home schooling families under competent private instruction.  It also does not include a 12 year roll-out.

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