Siouxland schools react to new school choice law

Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 6:02 PM CST
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SIOUX CITY (KTIV) - Local schools - both large and small, rural and urban, and most significantly public and private - reacted quickly to the news that school choice became law.

The Hinton Community School District sees itself as a “destination district,” with more than 200 students enrolled in school there while living in another district. But the superintendent is worried the new Iowa law will give them another competitor: private schools.

“Will the private schools put programming in? I don’t know, that remains to be seen, but then there’s just a lot of reporting that we do, that the private schools don’t have to do,” said Ken Slater, Hinton’s superintendent.

Here’s one example of how the new legislation could work. A parent could decide to take their child out of a public school and, instead, enroll them at the Siouxland Christian School. In that case, the Siouxland Christian School would receive about $7,600 from the state.

“And if they choose to pursue, say, a private school like ours, the state will award them some funds to be able to offset that tuition. So this applies to public school students that might want to look at a private school option,” said Lindsay Laurich, Siouxland Christian School’s superintendent.

Public school officials are worried about a mass exodus from their districts. Some lawmakers estimate 2-3% of current public school students will move to private schools.

“But, certainly, Sioux City has its fair share of English language learners (that) have free and reduced lunch, individual education plans, special ed, etc. So all of those take money,” said School Board President Dan Greenwell. “And we’re obliged by law to service those programs.”

Siouxland Christian School said it could accommodate 125 more students before it would create a “wait list”.

“So you will be able to receive that money from the state. And if you chose our school, for instance, you’d be able to come in and write us a check for the tuition so that your child could attend here if that was your choice as a parent,” said Laurich.

Siouxland Christian School said its current tuition is about $7,600, meaning parents would pay “almost nothing” out of pocket to attend the school. Laurich said the school doesn’t intend to raise its tuition simply because parents will have the ESA accounts to pay for school.

Breaking down the Students First Act

Let’s dig a little deeper into the details of the school choice bill, also called the “Students First Act.”

Next year, roughly $7,600 will go to eligible students, who choose to attend a private, accredited school. The money will go into “education savings accounts,” which will be administered by a third party contracted by the Iowa Department of Education.

Parents would first use the money for private school tuition and fees before spending it on other “qualified” expenses like textbooks, online programs, tutoring and exam fees.

The savings account cannot be used for things like food, clothing, college tuition or disposable school supplies, like pencils or crayons.

Next year, the program is open to students with families at 300 percent of poverty income guidelines. That expands to 400-percent in the second year. Then it would be open to any student, regardless of income, in the third year.

The law also gives new money to public schools. The governor estimates it will roughly be $1,200 for each student who lives in the district. But they would lose that $7,600 per student, who chooses to switch to private school.