Iowa governor signs Students First Act, enacting school choice through student vouchers program

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Act on Tuesday that allows each student to use, at any school, the sum the state allocates for a child in public schools.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R)

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Students First Act on Tuesday morning at the Statehouse.

The bill allows each student to use, at any school, the sum the state allocates for a child in public schools. In fiscal year 2023, that amount is $7,598, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

Beginning in fiscal year 2024, eligible students for the educational savings accounts are:

• Students who are eligible to enroll in kindergarten.

• Students who were enrolled in a public school the previous year and those who were enrolled in a public school the previous year with an annual household income at or below $83,250 for a family of four.

• Residents who receive an educational savings account payment in the immediately preceding school budget year.

In following fiscal years, pupils in kindergarten through grade 12 who attend nonpublic schools for the applicable school budget year will be eligible for the accounts.

“Parents all across Iowa, you’re in charge of your kids’ education,” the bill’s floor manager in the House, Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. John Wills, R-Spirit Lake, said at the news conference that accompanied Reynolds’ signing the bill.

Reynolds said she anticipates most families will continue attending public schools, but some families need to have other, better options for their child.

“With this bill, every child in Iowa, regardless of ZIP code or income, will have access to the school best suited to their individual needs,” she said.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, the legislation allocates funding from the teacher salary, professional development, early intervention and teacher leadership supplemental programs to the local public school for resident pupils in the district who receive the savings accounts. For each supplemental program, the district cost is that supplement’s cost per pupil for the budget year, multiplied by the sum of the budget enrollment for the school district plus the number of resident pupils in the school district that received an education saving account payment for the base year, the bill said.

Public school districts can use the remaining funds from the professional development, teacher leadership and gifted and talented program for teacher salary categorical funding at the end of the fiscal year, beginning in fiscal year 2023, for teacher salary categorical supplements, according to the fiscal note. The savings accounts’ amount is determined by the state cost per pupil for the fiscal year, which changes annually based on the state percent of growth.

The Iowa House of Representatives and the Senate passed the bill 55-45 and 31-18, respectively, on Monday.

Americans for Prosperity-Iowa State Director Drew Klein said passing the bill makes Iowa one of the first states in the nation to offer the accounts. It comes during National School Choice Week.

“[It] puts our state at the forefront of the fight for educational freedom,” Klein said.

He said the organization hopes Iowa can be an example for the rest of the country to do what’s best for every student’s success.