With new program for families, Iowa makes private school choice more accessible to all

By: National School Choice Week Team

Last Upated: May 23, 2023

Have you heard about Iowa’s Education Savings Account Program?

While the majority of children choose public school, there are some students who need another learning environment to thrive. Since Iowa passed the Students First Act this year, families interested in choosing a private school can now receive state funding to help cover tuition and fees. The new education savings account program opens the door for families across the state to consider whether private school is the best choice for their child, without the price tag being a barrier. 


What is Iowa’s Education Savings Account?

The 2023 Students First Act bill created Iowa’s Education Savings Account Program, which allows parents who choose a participating private school to receive their child’s education funding (about $7,598 for 2023-2024) in an online account. Half of the funds will be available for the fall semester, and half for the spring semester. 

Parents can then use those funds for approved educational expenses, including private school tuition, tutoring, educational therapies, advanced placement exams, nonpublic online learning, and more. Students with disabilities may also use the funds for the cost of paraprofessionals and assistants, or other education services.

In Iowa’s program, parents may not use funds for transportation costs, clothing, food, or the cost of disposable items like notebooks, art supplies, and pencils. 

Iowa's Education Savings Account Program gives families more than $7,000 of education funding that can be used for private school tuition, tutoring, and more. @SchoolChoiceWk's explainer walks you through the details and who can apply. Click To Tweet

Will the program fully cover tuition? 

Iowa has all sorts of private schools, from secular schools to faith-based schools. At many of Iowa’s private schools, the new education savings account amount will fully cover a family’s tuition costs: The average private school tuition in the state is $5,513 per year, though costs are often higher at high schools and lower at elementary and middle schools. If the scholarship does not cover tuition, parents can inquire with their school whether there are need-based or merit-based scholarships available to bridge the gap. 

What can families use Iowa’s Education Savings Account funds for?

Families participating in the program must first use their education savings account funding for tuition at a participating private school. Then, if there are extra funds, they can use those funds for other approved learning expenses. There are an array of expenses that could qualify – from paying for a reading tutor to taking a class at an approved online private school!

If a family does not need all their education savings funds in a given year, they can save the funds in their account for the next year, as long as the student remains active in the program. Just keep in mind that families must reapply each year to stay in the program.

Who is eligible, and when? 

You can find details on when your family will be eligible, as well as frequently asked questions and answers, at the Iowa Department of Education. Here’s a quick rundown: 

For 2023-2024: Current public school students and all new kindergarteners are eligible to apply for the program, regardless of income. Students who attended private school for the 2022-2023 school year can also apply if their family income does not exceed 300% of the federal poverty level (that’s $90,000 for a family of four in 2022-2023). In total, that means about 94% of children in the state will be eligible this school year.

For 2024-2025: Eligibility will expand to include current private school students from families whose income does not exceed 400% of the federal poverty level. 

For 2025-2026: All students in Iowa will be eligible — making the program one of the most expansive education savings account programs in the nation! 

Find Q&A about Iowa’s new program at the Department of Education.

Homeschool students who wish to switch to a private school choice are welcome to apply for the education savings program as well, regardless of income. Just note that families can’t use Iowa’s program for home education expenses. 

Rural families, keep in mind that you may be able to use the education savings account funds to attend an online private school. You can do this as long as your student enrolls full-time and the online private school is accredited through the Iowa Department of Education and participating in the program. 

Impact on public schools

So, how will Iowa’s Education Savings Account impact public schools? Iowa school districts will continue to receive state funding for the students they educate. Now, thanks to the Students First Act, they’ll also receive an additional $1,205 for each student who lives in their district but chooses to attend a private school instead of a public school. 

Other school choice programs in Iowa

Besides the new education savings account, Iowa has a few other state-run school choice programs. For example, it has offered tax credits for public and private school parents’ educational expenses since as early as 1987. It also enacted a tax-credit scholarship program in 2006 that provides private school scholarships for students from low and middle-income families.  

Future of Iowa education

Today, about 34,000 students in Iowa — just 6% of all K-12 students statewide — have chosen private schools. Now, with Iowa’s Education Savings Account Program, even more families can consider private schools as they seek the best educational path for their child. 

Iowa’s new program comes as a wave of education savings account programs are launching or expanding across the country — including in Arkansas, Utah, and Florida. As Iowa’s program is phased in over the next three years, it will be managed by the Iowa Department of Education, with the help of a company called Odyssey, which runs similar school choice programs in Arizona and Idaho. 

Sign up to apply!

The application period for the new program will begin May 31 and end  June 30, 2023 for the upcoming school year. The online application will be available in both English and Spanish. You can sign up at the Iowa Department of Education to be notified when more details are available. Parents who’d like to participate in the program should also contact a private school they might be interested in, even before the application period closes, to get more information or take a tour.

If you have further questions about the new program, you can reach out to Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding school choice options in Iowa, via phone (515-323-0687) or email ([email protected]). Spanish-speaking parents can also reach out to Hispanics Aligned for Choice in Education Reform via phone (515-323-0687 ext. 2), or email executive director Arlene McClintock at [email protected].

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