These are just a few of the testimonials from Iowa students and parents who have benefitted from the opportunities provided by Iowa’s school choice policies.
Too often the policy discussion over education centers around spending and for good reason. Public education consumes a majority of the state budget and is one of the driving costs of property tax bills.
However, what is often forgotten is that education should be about opportunity. Public education is a priority, but it does not always meet the needs of all students. Whether it is the curriculum, environment, culture, or the need for special educational services, public schools may not always be the best fit for all students. All children should have the ability to attend a school that provides the most opportunity for them to succeed. Iowa should expand its school choice policy to include Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). An ESA would allow funding to follow the student rather than a specific school.
Many students are restricted by zip codes, socio-economic status, or other roadblocks preventing them from obtaining a quality education. Currently, Iowa offers two main tax credit opportunities for families who choose to send their children to a private school. The Tuition and Textbook tax credit helps parents cover the costs of tuition, educational materials, and other fees. This tax credit is limited to 25 percent of the first $1,000 paid in eligible education expenses.
The Iowa School Tuition Organization tax credit program helps lower and middle income families afford private educational opportunities for their children. To qualify for this tax credit scholarship, families must be at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Iowa taxpayers who donate to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), which are charitable organizations that raise grants to help pay for tuition, are provided a tax credit “equal to 65 percent of the total contribution.” “If not for school choice and the Iowa STO (tax credit program), our family would not have this opportunity…,” stated one Iowa family.
An ESA provides parents with a “deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with restricted, but multiple, uses.” ESAs provide parents with the flexibility to customize the best education for their children. This includes not only choosing which school their child attends, but also helps with purchasing other educational services, thus affecting the overall quality of education which they receive. The flexibility of an ESA is what makes it such a good policy.
Some of the educational services ESAs can help cover include:
- School tuition and related fees
- Education pods
- Online instruction
- Curriculum materials and other supporting tools
- Specialized educational services for children with disabilities
- Utilize unused ESA funds to help pay for higher education
The COVID-19 pandemic has especially exposed the need for flexibility in education. “A massive crisis like the coronavirus pandemic is not the time to limit options for families struggling to find a way to balance their health, kids’ educations, and parents’ careers. They need flexibility and options,” noted Corey A. DeAngelis, Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation.
Both Iowa’s tax credit programs help families, but they are limited. An ESA would allow more parents to take advantage of educational opportunities. It is often assumed that school choice will lead to a hollowing out of public schools, but this is not the case. “Most families will likely choose their local district-run public schools, especially the ones that effectively adapt to families’ needs—and online education options may be part of that. But the real crux will be school funding that follows the child to whatever appropriate educational option the family chooses,” stated DeAngelis.
As the stories from students and parents demonstrate, this is not about criticizing public schools, but rather obtaining the best educational opportunity. Many parents are making significant sacrifices to provide their children with the education they need. Yet, they are struggling to pay tuition and other educational expenses to provide it. These same parents are taxpayers who are watching their tax dollars go to public education. “If we were in the public school, we’d be in a better financial situation,” explained one Iowa parent.
As a taxpayer, an ESA would allow this parent and others like them to use tax dollars to help pay for their children’s educational expenses. It is time Iowa removed the obstacles preventing parents from choosing the education opportunity best suited for their children. It is time to provide ESAs.