The cost of attending a private K-12 school in Iowa will go up for many families in the 2023-24 school year even after Iowa Republicans at Gov. Kim Reynolds’ behest approved using hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to supposedly make private education affordable to all who want it.
The first bill to pass in the 2023 Iowa legislative session was Reynolds’ plan to create taxpayer-funded educational savings accounts—a fancy way of saying vouchers—Iowa students can use to pay for private school tuition. This was the third legislative session in a row she pushed for the plan, and she finally succeeded.
Starting with the upcoming school year, the program will be implemented over three years, with an estimated total cost of $878 million. By the third year, any Iowa K-12 student, regardless of their family’s income, will be able to apply and receive $7,598 annually to help with tuition costs.
In the long run, the cost of the voucher plan to the state could be substantial, as it has an unlimited line item in the state budget and includes no sunset clause.
Reynolds and Iowa Republicans, who passed the bill only two weeks into the legislative session, initially said it was about “choice”—something all families already had when selecting a school. But during the Iowa House and Iowa Senate debates on the bill, they returned to touting baseless online conspiracy theories about critical race theory, “woke” ideologies and indoctrination occurring in public school as their justification for passing the legislation.
Republicans cited “woke” ideology, trans-inclusive school policies, and masks in public schools as some of the reasons parents need private school vouchers. The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Reynolds on Tuesday. #iowa #iowanews #iowapolitics #ialegis
“Regardless of the reason, every parent should have a choice of where to send their child—and that choice shouldn’t be limited to families who can afford it,” Reynolds said during her January condition of the state address.
However, an analysis of various 2023-24 private school tuition rates across Iowa shows that Reynolds’ ambition may have been shortsighted. While some private schools introduced minimal tuition increases—Holy Trinity Catholic School in Fort Madison increased tuition by less than a percent for parish members and about 3% for non-parish members—others swung for the fences including one Dubuque school that increased tuition by 40%, or an Anamosa school that literally doubled tuition.
During a Thursday taping of “Iowa Press,” Reynolds was asked if the tuition hikes defeated the point of her new signature legislation.
“Yeah, I don’t think it does,” Reynolds said. “I mean, all schools are experiencing increased costs. We had public schools talk about it too and that is why every year we look at a state supplemental aid payment because we recognize that there are increased costs. We’ll monitor it. But they’ll be able to use their foundation, the tuition tax credits as well as the ESA.”
Reynolds went on to say this would help private schools pay teachers more so those salaries are more competitive with public school salaries, which seems to contradict her own words from earlier this year.
“This isn’t about money,” she said during her condition of the state address. “It’s also not about public versus private schools. If that’s how you want to frame it; if you want to pretend this is a war between two different school systems, then you’re not focused on our children.”
To be clear, private schools reevaluate and sometimes raise tuition rates on an annual basis—a normal part of the budgeting process for those institutions—but some of the increases are well above the rate of inflation. Also, double-digit tuition hikes may ensure that a private school education remains out of reach for lower-income Iowans who were allegedly going to benefit from this legislation—an outcome Democrats and public school supporters predicted.
Starting Line examined dozens of Iowa private school websites, school board minutes, brochures, annual reports, recruiting materials, and other publicly available resources to find and compare high school* tuition rates for the 2022-23* and 2023-24 school years, the latter being when the vouchers kick in. And just as a reminder, private schools are private businesses, so even with public funding, they are not required to adhere to the same transparency standards as public schools, so the availability of data will vary by school. *unless otherwise noted.
Here’s what we found:
- Bishop Heelan High School in Sioux City: 2022-2023 tuition rate, $7,980**. 2023-24 tuition rate, $9,900** ($7,600 state voucher plus $2,300). A 24% increase. **Bishop Heelan waives additional fees for non-parish members or non-Catholics who pay the full tuition rate.
- Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines: 2022-23 tuition rates: $9,132 for parish families and $12,776 for non-parish families. 2023-24 tuition rates: $9,588 for parish families and $13,416 for non-parish families. A 5% increase for non-parish families and a 4.9% increase for parish families.
- Des Moines Christian School: 2022-23 tuition rate: $11,236. 2023-24 tuition rate: $12,360. A 10% increase. These rates are only for full-time, domestic students and do not include additional fees.
- Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo: 2021-22 tuition rates: $6,185 for supporting parishioners and $7,575 for non-parishioners. 2022-23 tuition rates: $6,742 for supporting parishioners and $8,257 for non-parishioners. A 9% increase for parishioners and non-parishioners.
- Holy Trinity Catholic School in Fort Madison: 2022-23 tuition rates: $5,080 for parish members and $6,125 for non-parish members. 2023-24 tuition rates: $5,207 for parish members and $6,307 for non-parish members. A 0.025% increase for parish members and a 2.9% increase for non-parish members.
- Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll: 2021-2022 tuition rate: $4,625***. 2023-24 tuition rate is not available online and the school declined to provide the information. “We don’t just hand those out to anybody, we just give those out to our current families coming in,” a Kuemper spokesperson told Starting Line. ***Does not specify if this is a general rate or a rate specific to parish members.
- Newman Catholic in Mason City: 2021-22 tuition rates: $4,350 for in-parish students and $6,010 for out-of-parish students. 2023-24 tuition rates: $6,300 in-parish students and $7,400 for out-of-parish students. Over two years, this is a 44% increase for in-parish students and a 23% increase for out-of-parish students.
- Iowa City Regina: 2022-23 tuition rates: $7,190 for parish members, $10,840 for families that participate in the “school stewardship” program, and $18,495 for the full rate. While specific figures for 2023-24 are not published yet, minutes from an April Regina Inter-Parish Catholic School Board of Education meeting indicate a 10% increase was approved.
- Saint Albert Catholic in Council Bluffs: 2022-23 tuition rates: $7,900 for freshmen and sophomore parish students, $9,400 for non-parish freshman and sophomore students; $8,420 for junior and senior parish students, and $9,920 for non-parish junior and senior students. 2023-24 tuition rates: $8,300 for freshmen and sophomore parish students, $10,340 for non-parish freshman and sophomore students; $8,840 for junior and senior parish students, and $10,910 for non-parish junior and senior students. The average increase for parish students was 5% and 10% for non-parish students.
- St. Edmund Catholic School in Fort Dodge: 2021-22 tuition rate: $4,605 for parish members and $5,105 for non-parish and non-Catholic students. 2023-24 tuition rate: $8,920 for parish members and $9,420 for non-parish and non-Catholic students. Over two years, tuition increased by 93% for parish members and increased by 84% for non-parish and non-Catholic students.
- St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic School in Ankeny (K-8): 2022-2023 tuition rates: $4,150 for parishioners and $6,200 for non-parishioners. 2023-24 tuition rate: $4,400 for parishioners and $6,500 for non-parishioners. A 6% increase for parishioners and a 4.8% for non-parishioners.
- St. Patrick School in Anamosa (K-6): 2022-2023 tuition rates: $2,450 for parish members and $2,725 for non-parish members. 2023-2024 tuition rates: $4,900 for parish members and $5,450 for out-of-parish members. The price of tuition was doubled for all students.
- Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque: 2022-23 tuition rates: $6,590 for supporting parish members, $7,015 for non-supporting parishes, and $7,790 for non-Catholics. 2023-24 tuition rates,: $7,400 for supporting parish members, $7,825 for non-parish members, and $8,600 for non-Catholics. An 11% increase for non-parish members, a 10% increase for non-Catholic students, and a 6% increase for supporting parish members.
- Waterloo Christian High School: 2022-2023 tuition rate: $6,384. 2023-24 tuition rate: $8,500. A 33% increase.
- Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids: 2022-23 tuition rates: $7,400 for parish members and $11,370 for non-parish members. 2023-24 tuition rates: $11,730 for non-Catholics (2023-24 tuition rate for parish members was unavailable publicly at time of publication). A 3% increase for non-Catholics.
by Ty Rushing
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