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This was a challenging year for everyone involved in the legislative process due to COVID mitigation procedures that were different in each chamber making interactions a little more interesting. There were also clear differences in direction between the House and Senate on education issues, making this an especially challenging year to lobby school choice and private school policy changes.

Although tempting to assign this session a letter grade, we recognize that success and failure are sometimes subjective in public policy. Where we experienced huge victories (like the increase in both the STO and Tuition & Textbook Tax Credits!), we also had some disappointments with Education Savings Account (ESA) efforts and the passage of some mandates we could not support.

Although we spent more time on defense than we expected this year, we were able to stop some dangerous and troublesome bills as well as advance school choice legislation and grow the ability to raise scholarship funds for low and middle income families.

We applaud the Governor for her willingness to take the school choice conversation to the next level by including ESAs in her Condition of the State Address and in her initial legislation that was passed by the Senate.

As we work to balance the public/private school choice landscape in Iowa and ensure ALL ships rise, the Governor and the Senate proved they are willing to champion students over systems and empower parents over institutions.  Thank you!

Tax Credit Update – Where We Ended Up

HF 847 was passed the final night of debate and doubled the tuition and textbook tax credit! This credit is used by public and private school students and now includes homeschool families. The increase helps families who sacrificially provide private or homeschool education to their students most as the increased maximum benefit of $500 from $250 will help those families who itemize recoup a small portion of the cost of educating their child. Public school families make up the largest percentage of claimants and will still benefit greatly from the credit when fees, supplies, and other education-related expenses are incurred. This is a huge improvement that will positively impact every family of school-aged children.

Also included in this bill was the increase in STO tax credits to $20 million (starting next year) and an increase in the percentage credit for donors to 75% from 65% (beginning this year). Although many states have a 100% credit, our 75% credit is the most generous in Iowa, and we are thrilled the state chose to continue to incentivize private donations to assist families who otherwise could never have a choice in educational environment.

These tax credits are critical for so many Iowa families and has a large, positive impact on the state budget as well. We’ll continue to champion their growth. We also look forward to further discussions with policymakers on filling in the gap that will always exist until we truly fund students instead of systems with an ESA or similar tool.

Breaking Down the Bills

A nearly full list of the bills we “declared” on this year is available by visiting our Key Legislation Page on our website. Descriptions and links to each bill along with the bill’s history can be found there. Below are a selection of bills we worked on this year to give you a feel for this session.

Bills that passed the Iowa legislature and our position:

HF 847 – Education Reforms – SUPPORT!

This bill increased the STO Tax credit to $20 million and increases the credit amount from 65% to 75%! It also doubled the tuition and textbook tax credit from a maximum benefit of $250 to $500 and includes homeschoolers for the first time. These are HUGE improvements. The bill did include some troublesome mandate language we registered our opposition to, but the net result of this bill is a big win for Iowa students and their families.

Bills that did not pass the Iowa legislature and our position:

SF 159 – Governor’s Ed Reform and School Choice Bill – UNDECIDED

We supported many things in this bill, but there were too many downsides to support fully. The bill passed the Senate but was divided into three separate bills in the House. You can read more about this bill and its history here.

HF 215 – ESA for students in schools identified for comprehensive support and improvement by Rep. Wills – UNDECIDED

We have never taken the stance that school choice should be contingent on the success or failure of a particular institution, zip code, or school boundary. We appreciate Rep. Wills’ support of ESAs and school choice, however! The bill did not pass committee.

HF 398 – ESAs by Rep. Shipley – SUPPORT!

This bill was introduced but did not pass committee.

SF 128 – ESAs by Senator Carlin – SUPPORT!

This bill was introduced but did not pass committee.

SF 431 – ESAs by Senator Zaun – SUPPORT!

This bill was introduced but did not pass committee.

SF 168 – Health Services, Special Education Support and Related Services In Nonpublic Schools – SUPPORT!

This bill didn’t make it through the Senate this year but we are hopeful the conversation continues on putting children who need services first in nonpublic schools and ensuring they get those services where it makes sense for the student to meet their needs and maintain continuity in his/her educational environment.

SF 103 / HF 795 – Seizure Disorders Training Mandate – OPPOSE!

We support a bill to revamp the teacher and administrator training requirements, but we have to quit piling on mandates that are often written without consideration of what will work within a school or teacher professional development plan.

SF 265 – Temporary Parental Discretion For the Retention Of A Student At Grade Level – OPPOSE!

We believe the state has zero business getting between private school parents and their child’s school on these matters.

SF 467 – Online Learning Up To Five Days For Inclement Weather – OPPOSE!

Private schools should not have been included in the bill.  The state does not have the right to tell us how many days we deliver content in any format.

HF 585 – Safe and Sound Program by Iowa DPS – OPPOSE!

This was a troublesome bill we wrote about in our March 1 update you can read here.

Handy Tools – Use Them!

You may always visit our action center on our website and find these tools but here are the easiest and quickest ways to get to our most commonly used resources:

Legislator Look-Up – Find your state and federal elected officials and contact them anytime you’d like on any subject.

IACS Newsletter Archive – Feel like you saw something in a newsletter, and you want to find it again? Most of our previous newsletters are available to see here.

Legislator Scorecards – See how your Senators and Representatives rank on supporting IACS positions on bills. This year’s sample size of bills that actually got a vote was pretty small, but it’s worth checking after each session or before each election.

Bill Tracker – See most of the bills IACS is tracking and what our positions and notes are on each one.

Candidate Look-Up – During each election cycle, find out who is running for state and federal offices in your area here.

Voter Registration – Encourage high school seniors, new Iowans, and anyone else to vote by sending them here to get signed up!

Also, be sure to download the VoterVoice app on your phone and choose the Iowa Association of Christian Schools as your organization and get all the latest information and tools wherever you are!