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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs private school bill

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Gov. Kim Reynolds signs a bill that will make thousands available to parents to send their child to a private school. The bill was one of Reynolds' key legislative priorities this year.

Surrounded by school-choice advocates and private school students, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an expansive private school education assistance bill into law on Tuesday.

The bill is the culmination of a 3-year effort and notches an early victory in the governor's top legislative priorities of the session.

All public school students and thousands of private school students now are eligible to receive a $7,600 education savings account to pay for tuition and other expenses at a private school. The program is expected to cost $107 million in the first year. By fiscal year 2027, the money will be open to all students in public and private schools, regardless of income, and is expected to cost $345 million.

It was the first bill of the legislative session to be signed into law after a flurry of activity over the first two weeks to advance it to Reynolds’ desk.

“For the first time, we’re funding students instead of a system,” Reynolds said. “We’re rejecting the idea that the answer to improving education is simply throwing more money into the same system.”

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Opponents of the bill say it will siphon money out of public schools, fund non-accountable private institutions, and argue private schools could turn away students with disabilities or families whose values don’t align with theirs.

In hours of floor debate Monday night, Democrats told stories of students with disabilities who were turned away from private schools and said much of the money would go to wealthy families who already pay for private school.

“The bill will divert essential funds from 92 percent of our student population and send the funds to just a select population of students admitted into private schools,” Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek said in a statement. “Tonight, some legislators ignored the wishes of most Iowans and voted to spend taxpayer money on private interests.”

Reynolds said the program is not at odds with public schools. She acknowledged the vast majority of students are expected to remain in public schools and said the bill will allow school districts more freedom to use their state funds.

“Public schools are the foundation of our educational system,” Reynolds said. “And for most families, they’ll continue to be the option of choice. But they aren’t the only choice. And for some families, a different task may be better for their children.”

Reynolds said the state will release the request for proposals today for a third-party company to administer the state program. Parents will be able to sign up for updates on a new state website that will go online Tuesday.

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