Governor Kim Reynolds

Gov. Kim Reynolds gives the Condition of the State address to members of the Iowa Legislature inside the House Chamber, on Tuesday evening, Jan. 10, 2023, at the Iowa State Capitol, in Des Moines.

(Des Moines) -- Just two and a half weeks into the 2023 Iowa Legislative Session, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has signed the 'school choice' bill into law.

The Tuesday morning signing comes after the Iowa House passed House File 68 by a 55-45 vote Monday evening, setting in motion the creation of Education Savings Accounts, which would include nearly $7,600 in state funds for families to send their children to private schools. The Iowa Senate passed a similar measure by a 31-18 vote. During the signing, Reynolds touted the plan as a new way to invest in students rather than a specific system.

"We're rejecting the idea that the answer to improving education is simply pumping more money into the same system year after year, without making significant changes," said Reynolds. "We are putting an end to the notion that competition is a zero sum game."

Under the bill, any family, regardless of income, with a K-12 student who wants to switch to a nonpublic school during the next school year would qualify for the ESA funds -- which is the same as the state allocates to public school districts per pupil in supplemental state aid. Some income restrictions apply for students already attending private school, but those restrictions would expire two years after the plan is passed.

Additionally, Reynolds says the plan gives parents more choices in selecting an education that fits their child's needs.

"Public schools are the foundation of our educational system 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 path may be better for their children," said Reynolds. "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."

The legislation also plans to loosen restrictions on categorical funding for public schools and provide an additional $1,200 to public schools for each student within their district switching to a private school.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Jack Whitver says the "historic" legislation is the latest step in diversifying the state's education system.

"Republicans in Iowa have continuously fought for school choice, but school choice means something different to different people," he said. "It could be public school to public school through open enrollment, it could be public school to charter school, it could be public to nonpublic, or it could mean, like we saw throughout COVID-19, just do my kids even have a chance to be in school."

House Republicans also voted to exempt the bill from the traditional budgetary process requiring consideration on the House Appropriations Ways and Means Committees, typically required of bills that appropriate funds. However, 12 Republicans, nine in the House and three in the Senate, joined Democrats in opposing the proposal. 

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