Iowa is introducing universal school choice, but regulations will limit the range of options for families


2023 begins with a school pick bang as legislators in both Iowa and Utah this month introduced education bills that would give all K-12 students access to a portion of state-allocated education funding to use for a variety of education expenses, including private school fees , tutoring, curriculum and supplies, and educational therapies.

The Iowa Education Savings Account (ESA) bill passed both legislatures and was signed into law earlier this week by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds. When fully implemented, Iowa’s ESA program will provide all K-12 students in the state with approximately $7,600 per year if they choose to leave an assigned district school.

The Utah bill is similar to Iowa’s bill and would provide approximately $8,000 per year in scholarships for all Utah K-12 students. That bill passed the Utah House of Representatives and is now under discussion in the Senate.

Both bills are wins for families who will now have much more options to opt out of a government-run school for private options. Indeed, these bills give middle- and lower-income families access to school choice that more affluent families have long enjoyed. High-income families have always been able to leave a required school assignment, while most other families have been trapped by their zip code.

School choice policies, especially robust policies such as those introduced last year in Arizona and West Virginia, ensure equal access to more and better educational options.

The good news is that families in some states now have the opportunity to consider other educational options that may be a better fit for their child. The bad news is that the supply of these options remains low. In Iowa in particular, those options are likely to remain scarce for the foreseeable future.

Only a few states require private schools to be accredited to standards set by the state department of education. Iowa is one of them. These regulations preceded all school choice programs involving taxpayers’ money, long limiting the entire private education sector in Iowa.

State accreditation requirements restrict the supply of new and innovative learning models, such as micro-schools, while favoring incumbents. They also prevent certain kinds of schools, like the one I’m highlighting Uneducated book, don’t work at all – regardless of any school choice policy – because those self-governing schools largely reject standardized testing and top-down curriculum frameworks.

For example, a group of enterprising educators had valiantly attempted to establish a Sudbury-style school in central Iowa, modeled after the famed Sudbury Valley School that opened in Massachusetts in 1968, which helped fuel the growth of dozens of Sudbury-style schools in the area. inspired all over the world. the US and around the world. Sudbury Valley continues to thrive to this day, more than half a century after its founding, and its alumni have thrived.

In July 2021, after many months of trying to launch their Sunrise Sudbury School in the Des Moines area, the Iowa founders announced that the state’s private school rules would not allow them to open. “We have a heartbreaking update,” they posted on their school’s Facebook page. “Over the past few months, we have been corresponding with the Iowa DoE and the BoEE. Based on our conversations, we have determined that opening a Sudbury model school in Iowa is not feasible. While this is clearly not the outcome we wished for for the school, we are pleased to see it closed.”

Accreditation requirements of public private schools, such as those in Iowa, block access to certain education models and discourage innovation and experimentation, regardless of any school choice policy. These requirements protect conventional education models while crowding out competition and rewarding established incumbents who walk the line.

Iowa may have made progress this week in expanding access to education options for families, but that access is likely to remain limited, and those options will remain limited until policymakers lift accreditation requirements for private schools. Education entrepreneurs in Iowa should have the same freedom as in most other states to introduce new and different educational models, and families should have the freedom to choose the learning model that works best for them.


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