Iowa School Choice Roadmap

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: February 23, 2021

Choosing a school? You’ve got options. 

Iowa parents, you have access to more K-12 education options than you might realize. Navigating these options is an important task, one that can make all the difference in the world to your child. It’s also one you’re well-equipped to accomplish! 

This post will breakdown the six types of schools available to you in Iowa, as well as provide some extra resources. Iowa families can choose from traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, homeschooling, and learning pods.



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Thank you for using our school finder tool. This new tool allows families to search for in-person public, charter, magnet, and private schools and learning environments. To identify online schools in your state, please visit our Ultimate Guide to Online School. To learn more about your state’s homeschooling laws, please visit our Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. This tool was developed by National School Choice Week, with data provided in partnership with Public School Review and Private School Review. For more information about this tool please visit our Schools Near Me Frequently Asked Questions page.
Traditional public schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public charter schools do not charge tuition. They are usually managed by nonprofit organizations and do not require students to pass tests to enroll.
Public magnet schools do not charge tuition. They are managed by school districts and focus on themes, such as math, science, technology, and the arts.
Private schools charge tuition, but scholarships are often available via state programs or by individual schools. Private schools are privately managed and can be faith-based or secular.

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      Iowa Traditional Public Schools

      First off, most children in Iowa (and in America) attend traditional public schools. Traditional public schools are free to attend, open to all students, operated by school districts, and funded by taxpayers. Iowa spends, on average, $13,241 per public school student each year

      Iowa has restricted open enrollment for public school. Open enrollment refers to whether parents can choose to send their child to any public school in Iowa, regardless of where they live or where the school is located. Based on Iowa’s laws, a parent may be able to choose a traditional public school in another district. If this is an option for you, you can visit multiple public schools in your area and discover which best fits your family. Open enrollment is a valuable option because traditional public schools aren’t all the same: They may differ in learning methods and one may just “feel different” than another to you. 

      Some students participating in open enrollment, including those meeting certain income guidelines, are provided transportation to their public school of choice by their assigned district.

      Find out more about public schools in your state here: Iowa’s Department of Education.

      Iowa Charter Schools

      Depending on where you are located, you may be able to choose a charter school for your child. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that have extra freedom to innovate with curriculum and learning methods. Iowa enacted a charter school law in 2003 but there are just two authorized charter schools as of the 2019-2020 academic year. These are located in Storm Lake and Maynard, Iowa. 

      Each public charter school has a charter which explains the school’s purpose and what specific community need it serves. For example, that could be providing a technical track or offering a rigorous, literacy-based curriculum. If there are more families seeking admittance to a charter school than there are seats, a lottery system is usually used to randomly determine admittance. 

      Iowa Magnet Schools

      You can also choose magnet schools! Magnet schools are district-run public schools that allow kids to focus on a specific learning track, such as engineering or the arts. Magnet schools teach all subjects through the lenses of that specific track. Iowa has several magnet schools scattered throughout the state. In the Cedar Rapids Community School District, for instance, there are five magnet schools, including Johnson STEAM Academy, which has been ranked as one of the best magnet schools in the United States. If there is a magnet school near you with a theme that interests your child, this could be a great option to consider. 

      Iowa Private Schools

      Iowa families can also consider private schools, nonpublic schools that charge tuition. Private schools may offer a unique curriculum, smaller class sizes, or a faith-based tradition. There are more than 150 private schools across the state of Iowa. The average tuition for private schools in the state is $5,226 per year, but keep in mind that schools often are more affordable at the elementary level than high school.

      In Iowa, families can take tax deductions for nonpublic school expenses. While the average tax credit amount is relatively small, every little bit can help. Also, children in Iowa are eligible for scholarships through the School Tuition Organization Tax Credit as long as their family income doesn’t exceed 400% federal poverty guidelines. Additionally, families can save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

      Learn more at Iowa Catholic Conference and Private School Review: Iowa.

      Iowa Online Learning

      Whether your child wants to accelerate learning or needs a quieter, less stressful environment in which to focus, you may be interested in trying virtual school. Iowa offers several free, full-time online learning options for students, such as Iowa Connections Academy and Iowa Virtual Academy. In order for funding to follow a child to online school, families need to fill out the Iowa Open Enrollment Application with their assigned district for approval; this could potentially be denied as open enrollment closed in March. 

      Which online options still have seats available and in what grades for 2020-2021?

      As of December 2020, neither Iowa Connections Academy nor Iowa Virtual Academy are accepting applications for the 2020-2021 school year.

      Does the school provide technology and wifi?

      At Iowa Connections Academy, no computers are available for this school year, but internet subsidies may be available. Iowa Virtual Academy does not typically provide technology and wifi but, based on financial aid, a loaner computer may be available. 

      Iowa Homeschooling

      Iowa families can also choose homeschooling, the process of parents educating students at home. As both technology and school choices have spread in Iowa, homeschooling is an increasingly popular choice.

      In Iowa, notice of your intent to homeschool is required by September 1 or within 14 days of starting unless you are homeschooling via private instruction (IPI or PI).  It is recommended that you formally withdraw your student from public school so they are not marked truant. In the case that you decide to return to public school in the middle of the school year, your local district can choose if they will accept the work that was completed or not.

      Iowa offers a funding assistance program called HSAP (Homeschool Assistance Program).  Your local public school district may offer to resident or open-enrolled homeschooled students; however, your district is not required to provide this funding to you. 

      Check out resources about homeschooling specific to Iowa.

      Iowa Learning Pods

      Micro-schools, pods, pandemic pods, and learning pods all refer to the same concept: students gathering together in a small group – with adult supervision – to learn, explore, and socialize.  Pods themselves can take a variety of legal forms, but in general they can be separated into two categories: self-directed pod (homeschool, homeschool collaborative, or micro-school) and learning support pod. It’s important to understand what kind of pod you are signing up for and the requirements that go along with it.  Learn more about learning pods.

      Self-Directed Pods:

      If your learning pod or micro-school is choosing its own curriculum and each family is directing their own children’s schooling, it likely qualifies as a homeschool in Iowa. Read more about the requirements for homeschooling and get tips from HSLDA here. Note that homeschoolers are eligible to receive some special education services from Iowa school districts. Additionally, homeschool students in Iowa may still be eligible to participate in classes, sports, or activities at local public schools.

      If your learning pod contains more than two families and will have teachers leading unique classes just for your school, it may qualify as a private school. You can read more about what Iowa classifies as a private school, how they’re regulated, and how to start one.

      Learning Support Pods:

      If your child is going to be enrolled in remote learning through your local public school and supervised by an adult in your learning pod, you do not need to register as a homeschool or private school. Keep in mind that you have multiple online learning options, including two permanent, full-time online schools that are available to students statewide. 

      Education Resources for Iowa Parents 

      For additional information about school choices in Iowa, visit these resources:

      Iowa students celebrates school choice

      School Choice Celebrations in Iowa

      National School Choice Week 2022 will take place January 23 – 29, 2022. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Check out ideas, inspiration, and more information

      Iowa celebrated National School Choice Week 2021 with 331 virtual events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Iowa.

      Visit State Page

       

      Explore School Choice. Get a free School Choice Snapshot for your state.

       

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