Putting Students First

Gov. Reynolds talking with high school students in a science class.

Every child in Iowa should have access to a high quality K-12 education. But learning opportunities are not always equitable—even within the borders of our own state. We must ensure that Iowa’s schools are serving the needs of all students and families, regardless of background, location or circumstances.

Students First Act

The current education model in Iowa limits opportunities for some students because per student funding is allocated to school districts rather than families. School choice allows public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that meet their needs—and allows parents to choose what’s best for their children, whether that’s a different public school, a private or charter school, home school or other learning environment.

Gov. Reynolds believes in creating opportunities for all Iowans, including our youngest, and proposes to expand the options available for K-12 education in Iowa.

Open Enrollment

Parents frequently request to open enroll after the deadline for reasons due to legitimate academic concerns. The Iowa Department of Education receives more than 1,000 phone calls each year regarding this issue.

  • Include a good cause exemption to the March 1 deadline for students at risk of serious academic failure that have not received adequate support from the school.
  • Offer an additional open enrollment deadline for students attending failing schools as defined by Iowa School Performance Profile (ISPP).

Voluntary Transfer Ban

Under Iowa law, students are prevented from transferring out of high poverty school districts based on their family income. Diversity plans are currently used in five Iowa school districts to regulate student transfers: Davenport, Des Moines, Postville, Waterloo and West Liberty.  

  • Eliminate voluntary diversity plans and allow transfers regardless of income levels.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools open to all students that provide greater flexibility to serve a diverse and changing student population. They promote innovation within the classroom and flexibility with resource allocation.  

  • Allow for a charter school founding group – usually a nonprofit organization, or even a group of interested parents and community members – to apply through the State Board of Education to open a school that will be held to high standards outlined in their charter.

Innovative Waivers

Public school districts have an opportunity to engage students in learning through offering unique and innovative educational experiences. 

  • Promote the use of innovative waivers, which are currently available but not used, that grant districts the flexibility to include non-traditional learning opportunities in their educational program, such as STEM/STEAM and work-based learning.
  • Provide new funding flexibility that is only available with the innovative waivers. 

Education Savings Account (ESA)

Per student funds, which are typically allocated directly to a student’s public school district, are deposited into an education savings account for the family and can be used for allowable expenses at the school of their choice. 

  • Eligible students include those who are currently attending or will be entering Kindergarten at a school that is identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement based on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). 

Attendance and Funding

Per student funding in Iowa for both general and special education is based on a single-day attendance count taken each year in October. Other states have student information systems that track attendance at points throughout the year, ensuring a more accurate allocation of funding. This system incentivizes schools to ensure students are attending, and has resulted in higher attendance and graduation rates. 

Students matter every day—not just on the single day they’re counted. We can do better and should, and the state proposes to put systems in place to enable that.

  • Utilize federal relief funds to implement a statewide student information system and improve overall school data management, including attendance.
  • Update the per student funding methodology based on ongoing attendance. 

School Board Accountability

Local school boards have been a feature of the U.S. public education system for nearly 100 years, and they are widely regarded as the principal democratic body capable of representing citizens in local education decisions.

  • Amend Iowa Code to include language stating school boards are responsible for student improvement and achievement.