Community reaction to Iowa’s school voucher program

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(ABC 6 News) – Local lawmakers and school districts are reacting to what Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds calls the ‘Students First Act.’

This new law gives every student in Iowa $7,598 to spend on private school education.

“For the first time we’re funding students instead of a system,” Reynolds said while she signed the bill Tuesday. “We’re rejecting the idea that the answer to improving education is simply pumping more money into the same system year after year, without making significant changes.”

But the new law is the last thing that Mason City Schools Superintendent Pat Hamilton wants for his students.

“This bill is not transparent and open. Rules are not the same for private schools as they are for public schools when it comes to that,” Hamilton said.

In Iowa, public schools get $7,598 per student from the state. Under this new law, a student can choose to take that around $7,500 and spend it on private schools instead.

“What will be left for public education?” Hamilton asked.

Public school districts will receive just over $1,200 per student living within their district boundaries regardless of if they choose public or private schools. Republican lawmakers say this will help offset any funding decreases districts see from declining enrollment.

“I have faith in our public schools. I don’t believe that when we pass this bill tonight we will see a mass exodus,” said (R) Representative John Wills.

“It’s not an even playing field at all. The bill is being sold as parent choice, it is absolutely not parent choice,” Representative Sharon Steckman (D) explained. Steckman pointed out that no matter what, this law still leaves out students in rural Iowa who don’t have access to private schools at all.

According to a new nonpartisan report created by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency, by 2026 the program will have cost the state around $880 million. The first phase of the program rolls out next year.
For the first two years of this new bill, starting in 2024, there is an income cap yo focus on low and middle income students.

By the third year, everyone has access to this program regardless of income.