Nearly 19,000 state-funded accounts may cover private school costs

DES MOINES — State officials say nearly 19,000 applicants have qualified for state-funded accounts to cover private school expenses.

In January, Republican legislators approved Governor Reynolds’ plan to deposit state money in Education Savings Accounts that are to be used to pay tuition and other costs for students in a private K-12 school. Each account is to get about $7600. but there were household income limits.

The number of approved accounts is about a third more than lawmakers had expected.

“These numbers reflect that Iowans were hungry for educational freedom,” Governor Reynolds said in a written statement. “Empowering parents wasn’t just a campaign slogan or empty rhetoric. It was a promise, and I am excited to say we are delivering.”

A final report on how many accounts were activated will come in December after officials confirm students were enrolled in a private school. Some parents who submitted applications may not have found a spot in a private school for their child. In July, state officials indicated 60% of applications were from parents whose child already attended a private school. Forty percent were for kids who’d be enrolling in a private school for the first time.

Two years from now, every parent of a private school student may apply for the state stipend. State officials say nearly 6000 of this year’s applications were denied because they did not meet household income limits or residency requirements.

Sioux County had the highest number of approved applications, per capita, with over 1200 Education Savings Accounts established for the northwest Iowa county’s students. Nearly 3200 applications were approved for Polk County, the state’s largest county. There were no applications from residents of Decatur, Louisa or Ringgold Counties.

If every approved account is activated, the state will be spending $144 million on the program this year. House Democratic Leader Jennifer Konfrst said that money should be going to public schools to do things like address Iowa’s teacher shortage and expand school-based mental health services for kids.