Guide to School Choice in Iowa

By: National School Choice Week Team

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, and homeschooling.

Iowa celebrates school choice

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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. 

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

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 Cedar Rapids, for instance, Johnson STEAM Academy 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. In Iowa, families can take tax deductions for nonpublic school expenses, and families under a certain income level can qualify for state-run scholarship opportunities. Also, effective in 2018, the federal government allows parents to save for K-12 private school tuition using tax-preferred 529 savings accounts.

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. For part-time classes, any middle-school or high-school student in Iowa, at the discretion of their school, can currently enroll in courses through Iowa Learning Online. However, 2019-2020 is the last year that Iowa Learning Online will offer that service. 

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.  Check here for resources about homeschooling specific to Iowa.

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 2021 will take place January 24 – 30, 2021. We encourage all schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals to join the celebration. Click here for ideas, inspiration, and more information! 

Iowa celebrated National School Choice Week 2020 with a record-breaking 444 events and activities across the state. Click the button below to learn more about school choice in Iowa.

Visit State Page


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