Impacts ESA could have on Iowa schools

(ABC 6 News) – The Students First Act grants students funding they can use to cover private school expenses.

There’s no way to tell how much this will affect public schools until the school year starts.

“Public schools stand to lose $79 million a year because of this program,” Iowa House representative Sharon Steckman said.

The Students First Act allowed families to apply for about $7600 per student to go towards private school tuition, fees, and other costs. As of August 4th, over 18,000 education savings accounts were approved. Out of that, 338 were from Cerro Gordo County.

“We don’t know how many of those 338 are currently attending one of those schools and qualify based on either possibly being a new kindergarten student or fit into the income threshold,” Mason City Community Schools superintendent Pat Hamilton said.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed the bill because she believes it will remove the boundaries between public and private schools.

Hamilton said it’s too early to say what the outlook for the school year will be because of this act.

“We really won’t know what effect probably until October when the count date comes out.”

This is going to be an expensive investment for Iowa, as they budgeted $107 million for this act based on projections from the Iowa Legislature Service Agency. But when you calculate based on the actual number of approved applicants, it could cost taxpayers more than $141 million. That’s roughly $34 million dollars more than what’s currently been appropriated by the state.

“By the end of the three years it’ll be over $1 billion out of our state budget, and I’m just really worried about it breaking our state budget,” Steckman said.