Update: HSB 651 passed out of subcommittee, so it will be debated in the full House Education Committee. Also, on the Caffeinated Thoughts Podcast, we discuss this bill with Trish Wilger of Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education and Mark Jacobs of Reaching Higher Iowa.

HSB 651, the Iowa Student Opportunities Act, was introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by State Representative Walt Rogers (R-Cedar Falls), the House Education Committee Chair, would create an educations savings grant program and a new charter school program starting on July 1, 2019, to expand school choice for Iowa’s public school families.

Initial eligibility for the education savings grant program is limited to families who plan to enroll their student(s) in an accredited non-public school after attending a public school the school year prior (with the exception of students enrolling in kindergarten).

Under the bill, parents or guardians would apply to the Iowa Department of Management, who will over see the accounts, participation in the program is approved on a year by year basis. After a student has participated for one year, they may apply again.

The amount of funding per student will vary by year and by the student’s school district of residence. The bill states the amount assigned to the students will be the equivalent of 90 percent of the following items:

  • The product of the pupil’s weighted enrollment that would otherwise be assigned to the pupil under this chapter if the pupil was enrolled in the pupil’s district of residence multiplied by the difference between eighty-seven and five-tenths percent of the regular program state cost per pupil and the statewide average foundation property tax per pupil.
  • The total teacher salary supplement district cost per pupil for the pupil’s district of residence.
  • The total early intervention supplement district cost per pupil for the pupil’s district of residence.
  • The total area education agency teacher salary supplement district cost per pupil for the pupil’s district of residence.
  • The total area education agency professional development supplement district cost per pupil for the pupil’s district of residence.
  • The total teacher leadership supplement district cost per pupil for the pupil’s district of residence.

The bill is currently written to have a minimal impact on the budget.

The account can be used for qualified educational expenses for things such as tuition and fees at a nonpublic school, textbooks, fees, or payments for educational therapies, including tutoring or cognitive skills training, curriculum fees and materials for a specific subject matter or grade level, tuition or fees for nonpublic online education programs, education materials and services for students with disabilities, standardized test fees, and higher education costs (excluding housing and board).

The balance of the education savings grant carries forward each school year. Upon graduation, the balance may be used for in-state community colleges, Regents universities, or private universities until a student reaches 23-years-of-age. Students who enlist for federal active duty in a branch of the U.S. military who receive an honorable discharge are eligible for an extension for every year served up to their 27th birthday. Any remaining balance will then be deposited into the state’s general fund.

The bill explicitly states that the state or any political subdivision (city, county, school district) are not allowed to require a nonpublic school to modify their academic standards for admission or educational program in order to receive payment from a student’s account. The bill also states any rules adopted for the implementation of the education savings grant program that place an undue burden on nonpublic schools are invalid. Nonpublic schools receiving payment from these accounts are not to be considered agents of the state or any political subdivision.

The bill also creates a new charter school program using three different models.

School boards can solicit charter applications to establish charter schools within their own district that they can approve. School boards can also create a founding group who will then apply to the state board of education for approval. In either case school boards can create a new attendance center, create a new school within an exsiting attendance center, or covert an existing attendance center to a charter school.

A founding group may apply to the state board for approval to establish and operate a charter school within the boundaries of the state that operates as a new attendance center independently from a public school district.

Charter school contracts are not to exceed a period of five years and may be renewed.

The bill establishes requirements for charter school application contents and procedure, requires the state board of  education to adopt rules to establish appropriate application timelines and deadlines for the submission of charter school applications, and establishes standards for reviewing charter school applications by the authorizing board, as specified in the bill.

The bill also establishes the approval or denial process, as well as, what is expected for oversight of the charter schools. Teachers at charter schools are expected to be licensed and the required endorsement for the instruction or service they were hired to provide.

Public schools are required to pay charter schools the proportionate amount of state and eligible federal aid that students residing in their district who attend charter schools are eligible for.

The bill also establishes procedures for handling failing charter schools including its closure if necessary.

Charter schools are required to file annual reports to the Iowa Department of Education, and the Department is required to provide a comprehensive report on the status of charter school program to the Legislature on an annual basis.

The bill will be considered in subcommittee on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 11:00a in the House Lounge located in the state capitol building. The subcommittee consists of State Representatives Rogers, Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City), Megan Jones (R-Sioux Rapids), Mary Mascher (D-Iowa City), and Amy Nielsen (D-North Liberty).

Organizations supporting the bill are Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Association of Christian Schools, Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, Americans for Prosperity, and Reaching Higher Iowa. Organizations in opposition are ACLU of Iowa, School Administrators of Iowa, Iowa Federation of Labor (AFL-CIO), Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, One Iowa Action, and the Iowa State Education Association.

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