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New Iowa law could lead to higher pay for private school teachers
Parish and fundraising money could be redirected to close pay gap
CEDAR RAPIDS — Education Savings Accounts — tuition provided by the state for private school — could allow private schools to increase teacher and administrator salaries, reducing the pay gap between private and public school educators.
Teachers at St. Joseph School, a Catholic school in Marion, are paid about 15 percent less than teachers at public schools in the area, Principal Casey Kettmann said. The public school teacher salary in Iowa generally ranges between $44,778 and $65,385.
“They come here because they want to be a part of something bigger,” Kettmann said. “They do it for the joy of teaching.”
Kettmann hopes education savings account can help close the pay gap. With the cost of tuition largely — if not entirely — covered by the accounts, private schools could redirect financial support from parishes and fundraising to increase staff salaries.
Under a new law signed by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds last month, all public school students and thousands of private school students will become eligible to receive a roughly $7,600 education savings account per year to pay for tuition and other expenses at a private school. The program is expected to cost $107 million in the first year and by 2027, when phased in, will cost $345 million.
Public school districts will receive an estimated $1,205 in funding from the state for each student who lives in the district but attends a private school — not only for students who choose to leave for private schools, but students who already are in them.
Zach Zeckser, chief administrator of LaSalle Catholic Schools in Cedar Rapids, said private school teachers “sacrifice a lot financially.” The highest-paid teacher in LaSalle schools with a master's degree, 15 continuing education credits and 21 years of experience teaching will make $67,000 next school year, he said.
Private schoolteachers also don’t have access to IPERS, the state’s largest public retirement system. While some private schools put money in to 401(k)s and other workplace saving plans for retirement, the benefits aren’t the same, Zeckser said.
Lynne Devaney, Diocese of Davenport superintendent of schools, said its schools also are considering reducing — but not eliminating — parish financial support of Catholic education. Tuition also could be adjusted “over a period of time” to better reflect the actual cost of education, she said.
School financial structures are being reviewed and discussed with school boards, pastors, parish councils and families.
“The Diocese is aware that this legislation is controversial (among) Iowans,” Devaney said in an email to The Gazette. “It is our hope that expressed differences of opinion do not become so divisive that we lose sight of our common goal: to produce educated, involved citizens of Iowa who contribute to the common good of their chosen community. … Philosophically, our approaches may be different, but the outcome remains the same.”
Many Diocesan schools have reported an increase in parental interest in enrolling in Catholic school, Devaney said. Schools are discussing class sizes, square footage of classrooms, the ability to provide teachers with the addition of classrooms and managing the rollout of the three year education savings account implementation, she said.
Nonetheless, “We do not anticipate reaching enrollment capacity,” said Chris McCarville, president of Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids.
Opponents of the new law say it will siphon money out of public schools, fund unaccountable private institutions and devote tax money to schools that could turn away students with disabilities or families whose values don’t align with theirs.
Jeff Pospisil, principal of Cedar Valley Christian School in Cedar Rapids, said Christian education is important to families who want the same values taught at home, at church and at school.
“Parents want to know what’s being taught and agree with what’s being taught in school. There’s more than reading, writing and arithmetic. There’s how it applies to God’s word and the moral factor,” Pospisil said.
On the application to enroll a child in to Cedar Valley, families must agree to abide by the policies laid out in the school handbook. One of these policies is a “biblical standard of sex, gender, marriage and sexual purity.”
“We believe sex and gender are intentionally created and designed by God at conception and not a matter of human free will. We believe the biblical definition of marriage to be exclusively limited to the covenant relationship between one man and one woman,” according to the school’s handbook.
Students also must maintain a C- average or higher, according to the handbook. Failure to do so in two consecutive semesters may result in the student being removed from the school, unless the student is making a strong effort to achieve higher scores.
“At some point it may be determined that our program is not equipped to serve a particular child or family. This may occur because our school is not equipped to meet the needs of the student or family. It may be due to irreconcilable differences of philosophy or doctrine, or because the attitudes or actions of the student or family are inconsistent with (Cedar Valley Christian School) standards,” the handbook states.
How does the new private school tuition law work?
Parents who choose to enroll their children in an accredited Iowa private school will receive an amount equal to the per-pupil funding allocated to public school districts for the same school year. That’s estimated to be about $7,600 for the school year beginning this fall.
Funds will be deposited into an education savings account to be used for tuition, fees and other qualified education expenses specified in the new law. That includes private tutoring, textbooks or school-related fees or payments for “educational therapies.” That includes fees for private online classes; vocation and life-skills classes approved by the Iowa Department of Educations; materials and services for students with a disability from an accredited provider, including the cost of paraprofessionals and assistants; standardized test fees; and advanced-placement exams for college-level courses offered by high schools. The money is not to be spent on food, clothing, transportation or disposable school supplies, like pencils and paper.
Other student funding will remain with public school districts. That includes categorical funding for students who choose to leave their public school and for all students who live in the district but attend a private school. In the first year of the program, it’s estimated that Iowa’s public schools will receive about $1,205 per pupil in categorical funding for students in private schools.
Who is eligible?
Year 1: School year 2023-24
• All entering kindergarten students
• All students enrolled in a public school
• A student enrolled in a private school with a household income at or below 300 percent of the 2023 federal poverty guidelines, $90,000 for a family of four
Year 2: School year 2024-25
• All entering kindergarten students
• All students enrolled in a public school
• A student enrolled in a private school with a household income at or below 400 percent of the 2024 federal poverty guidelines that will be updated January 2024
Year 3: School year 2025-26
• All K-12 students in Iowa regardless of income
How do you apply?
The parent will be able to apply for an account for their student at the same time they are in the process of applying to a private school. However, they will be unable to use account funds if they do not end up attending a private school for the year in which they have received the money.
The Iowa Department of Education is working to develop the operational plan for the program, including the application process, according to the Iowa Governor’s Office. The plan will be refined and finalized once a third-party vendor is selected to assist with program development and management.
The state is issuing a request for proposal from businesses with experience managing similar programs. Proposals are due Feb. 14.
The vendor selected will support the transfer of funds from the state to families of eligible students and ensure program compliance.
For more information and to sign up for notifications, go to educateiowa.gov/pk-12/education-savings-accounts
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Tom Barton of The Gazette Des Moines Bureau contributed.