Photo Credit: Jason Mrachina (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

On Wednesday afternoon, the Iowa Senate Education Committee passed by an 8 to 7 vote an amended version of SF 372 (now SF 547), a bill creating education savings accounts (ESAs) for K-12 students with special needs enrolled in an accredited nonpublic school or those denied open enrollment in another public school.

The original bill stated all K-12 students enrolled in an accredited nonpublic school or receiving competent private instruction were eligible. Citing complaints Republicans received about the rollout of the Medicaid privatization, the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Jerry Behn (R-Boone), said this allows for the program to start “at a crawl.”

Should the bill pass starting in the 2020-2021 school year, K-12 students enrolled in a nonpublic school or paying tuition at another public school when denied open enrollment who have an individual educational plan (IEP) or who are considered to have a disability under federal law are eligible to apply for an ESA administered through the Iowa Department of Management.

Recipients of the ESA can spend the funds on qualified educational expenses like tuition, textbooks, tutoring, cognitive skills training, curriculum, curriculum fees and materials for a specific course of study, nonpublic online education programs, as well as, educational materials and services for students with disabilities.

The amount per grant would be the amount equal to the product of the pupil’s weighted enrollment assigned to the student when enrolled in their home public school district. The state would then multiply that figure by an amount equal to the difference between eighty-seven and five-tenths percent of the regular program state cost per pupil and the statewide average regular program state foundation property tax per pupil in the same school year. For the 2020-2021 school year that amount is approximately $4,083.

It is unclear how much the program will cost the state since the number of participants is unknown.

There are five states with active ESA programs are Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Nevada also has an ESA program that is currently not active due to litigation. According to EdChoice, there are 15,296 students participating in those programs. Florida has the largest ESA program in terms of participation (10,531 enrollees in Fall 2017) and Nevada has largest ESA program in terms of statewide eligibility (93 percent of students).

Iowa currently offers school tuition organization (STO) tax credits for donations made to different STOs who then provide scholarships to eligible students to attend a participating accredited nonpublic school. Also, Iowa provides parents of students in any accredited nonpublic or public school a tax credit covering educational expenses, including tuition, books and lab or activity fees. The credit is worth a maximum of $250.

State Senators Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), Jerry Behn (R-Boone), Jeff Elder (R-State Center), Craig Johnson (R-Independence), Tim Kraayenbrink (R-Fort Dodge), Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa), Annette Sweeney (R-Alden), and Brad Zahn (R-Urbandale) voted in favor of the bill.

Two Republicans, State Senators Chris Cournoyer (R-LeClaire) and Mark Lofgren (R-Muscatine), joined Democrats committee members Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines), Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City), Jackie Smith (D-Sioux City), and Zach Wahls voting no on the bill.

Photo Credit: Jason Mrachina (CC-By-NC-ND 2.0)

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