Tax credit elevates Iowa’s standing for school choice

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

By Lynn Campbell  |

DES MOINES — Despite having no school voucher program and only seven charter schools, Iowa fares well nationally as a state giving parents options of how to educate their children.

“Iowa is actually viewed as a state with more choices than other states,” said Andrew Campanella, vice president of public affairs for National School Choice Week, a Virginia-based nonprofit advocating school choice. “People look at Iowa and see that in a rural state, school choice is popular and it’s possible.”

The credit comes largely because Iowa is one of seven states that allow people to get a tax credit if they donate to a school tuition organization, which then gives the money to students as scholarships.

Those tax credits were previously capped at $5 million. But in 2007, Democratic Gov. Chet Culver signed into law a bill that increased the limit to $7.5 million, and that’s about the amount in tax credits issued by the state last year, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.

“Across the country, people were saying that only Republicans do this,” Campanella said. “I would say that if you look at every state, we are increasing the number of Democratic supporters every year. Iowa increased choice when Democrats controlled the Legislature and governor’s office.”

But while the tax credit has helped families who send their children to private school, it hasn’t helped homeschoolers.

“There is no financial benefit or savings if you want to homeschool in the state of Iowa,” said Des Moines attorneyBill Gustoff, whose wife, Sara, homeschools their four children, ages 19 months to 15 years. “We’re paying for the public schools but not getting any of the tax credits or deductions that private school families can get.”

Iowa is among states taking part in National School Choice Week, which runs Jan. 22 to 28 and spotlights the need for educational options for children. A proclamation signing will be held noon Monday at the Capitol in Des Moines, while a second event will be held Wednesday at Waterloo Christian School.

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