Iowa is the recent success story of school choice. Accuracy in Media revealed in a hidden-camera investigation that school district administrators were bragging about skirting anti-CRT provisions.
That created considerable political pressure in Iowa in favor of school choice, as legislating curriculum clearly did not work.
That political pressure wasn’t enough in 2022, however. Plans to expand school choice had been several years in the making but actually getting them through the legislature proved difficult thanks to the usual objections from school districts, teachers’ unions and politicians beholden to them.
In 2023, in the Condition of the State address, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced full school choice. Tax-funded Educational Savings Accounts for K-12 students statewide with no parental income limits on who may receive them. Because this was a signature issue for Reynolds she put the weight of her office behind the proposal. She signed the bill into law two weeks after first announcing it.
It actually only took 24 hours to pass through both houses of the legislature.
Unlike some other school choice schemes, this one in Iowa allocates the full amount the State would spend – $7,598 this year – to the parents for them to spend as they see fit for their child. There is a phase-in. In the first year, it is available to all kindergarten and all public school students. The limitation is that for private school students only those with a household income below $90,000 are eligible (that’s 300% of the Federal Poverty Line). In the second year, the income limit rises to 400% of the FPL; in the third year, there is no income restriction. All K-12 students in Iowa are eligible, regardless of income.
This was the third attempt by Reynolds to get school choice passed. It was also the most ambitious of the plans she presented. There might be a useful lesson there, go big or go home perhaps?
We’ve pointed out before the merits of school choice in Iowa. The Students First Act is an excellent name for it because that’s exactly what it is, putting the interests of the students (and their parents) ahead of anyone else. Which is how education should be run of course.
But even though school choice is just as good as Mom and apple pie it doesn’t get passed as easily as that. There are too many who gain power and income from the current system for that. So, what’s necessary is exactly what did happen in Iowa. A senior politician to drive the policy through the political system. The objections may all be self-interest but self-interest is a powerful force.
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