Advocates work to protect students with disabilities amid education changes in Iowa

The main concern is over how resources will be shared or stretched, and that means fewer dollars for schools that have to accept students with disabilities
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 10:38 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - How will the new law allowing state money to go toward private education impact students with disabilities?

That’s the question some are now asking after Governor Reynolds signed the Students First Act into law back in January. The law allows for eligible students to get about $7,600 dollars a year to spend on private school tuition.

Brooke Lovelace, Executive Director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council said the concern is the law could take away funding from public schools, and that means fewer dollars for schools that have to accept students with disabilities, unlike private schools.

“We’re not necessarily against the law. But we want to make sure that this law does not take away funding for students that might need special education,” said Lovelace.

Public schools receive some of their money based on student population size. Currently, per pupil funding is about 7,600 dollars a student. That means a loss of five students to a private school, even after money from the state to offset the change, is a net loss of about $32,000 dollars.

“[The] Special Ed teaching pool is a real shortage area right now,” said John Speer, Chief Administrator at Grant Wood Are Education Agency, which provides support to students at both public and private schools.

He said the new law might mean some slight changes, but the main concern is making sure there will be enough staff to go around if student populations shift.

“We have to work together to try to make this bill work so that we aren’t spreading Special Ed teaching staff so thin,” said Speer.

Chris McCarville, President of Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids, said the school has seen an increase in inquiries into the school since the new law passed.

“We definitely have seen more interest,” said McCarville.

McCarville says Xavier has occasionally told families who have students with disabilities that they cannot attend Xavier.

“It’s a very rare situation. It does happen,” said McCarville.

He said Xavier wants to welcome more students with disabilities, while public school advocates just want to be sure they’ll still have all the resources they need.

“Anything that would increase the demands on that [special education teacher] pool would be would be really worrisome to everybody,” said Speer.