Amid efforts to make private schools affordable, a handful of schools increase tuition prices

Published: Apr. 20, 2023 at 6:28 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A handful of catholic schools in eastern Iowa are raising tuition prices after the Iowa Legislature passed a bill in January to make nonpublic education more affordable.

House File 68 created an Educational Savings Account (ESA), which allowed parents to spend about $7,600 on private school tuition as well as other educational costs, such as tutoring or textbooks. The money would come from funds initially designated for public schools, but the state of Iowa would provide the public school district $1,200 to offset the loss.

Republicans, like Gov. Kim Reynolds, said the bill would help make private schools accessible for more Iowans.

Tuition at Holy Family Catholic Schools in Dubuque will increase by about 30%, for elementary school students, who aren’t catholic. Those elementary school students, who come from supporting parishes, will see their tuition jump about 40% from $3,580 to $5,010.

The tuition increases are across the board for Holy Family Schools from 2022 to 2023, but only high school students not attending a supporting parish will have to spend more than the voucher provided by the state.

Phil Bormann, who is the Chief Administrator, for Holy Family Catholic Schools in Dubuque, said it’s seeing a “bump” in enrollment at all levels due to the voucher in an unlisted YouTube video. He also said the school will increase tuition over three years to improve the school because of the funds from the state.

“We’re going to be able to leverage some of those funds to improve programming for our kids to do things that we’ve never been able to do in the past,” Bormann said. “...We’re going to be able to pay faculty and staff, even more, a more just wage. This is something I think we all can agree they absolutely deserve. And so these things are going to come in time, but to get there we’re gonna have to make some adjustments to our current tuition model.”

He also said the out-of-picket tuition costs will not increase for current families attending Holy Family Catholic Schools, who aren’t eligible for an ESA. For this upcoming school year, only private school families making more than 300% of the federal poverty level aren’t eligible for the vouchers. For a family of four that is about $90,000.

According to the Iowa Department of Education, everybody will be eligible for the state’s educational savings account by the 2025 to 2026 school year.

Lynn Holverson, who is the principal of All Saints Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, said it’s difficult to predict exact numbers until school starts however she expects an increase in potential enrollment of fewer than 10 students. She said tuition increased for the upcoming school year to $5,785 from $4,132, about 40%.

Brianna Richard, who is the principal of St. Matthew Elementary in Cedar Rapids, said its enrollment for the 2022 to 2023 school year is the same as the enrollment for the 2023 to 2024 school year. She said the school is increasing its tuition from $4,180 to $5,852, about 40%.

Both schools said the cost to educate each student is more than tuition prices, which are offset by their local parish.

Michael Cyze, who is a spokesperson for the Dubuque Public School District, said the district has received some pre-enrollment records requests from private schools in an email. He said it has had to clarify its process as a district to ensure it follows privacy laws like FERPA while responding to those requests for information usually considered confidential.