WELLSBURG, Iowa—For this coming fall, Timothy Christian School will welcome just 45 students in kindergarten through 8th grade—the fewest to begin an academic year since the school opened in 1941.
In a state where 30 entire school districts have been eliminated in the last decade and more than 4,000 have been wiped out since 1950, this would seem to be bad news for Timothy, a non-denominational school.
But Janna Voss, who has been at Timothy for 31 years—the last 18 as principal—could not be more pleased with where things stand. The school has been aggressive about fundraising, prudent about spending and diligent about prayer, she said.
As a result, “The school has never been more financially sound than we are right now,” Voss told The Daily Signal in an interview.
Timothy Christian, which Voss describes as a “parent-run school” in which parents “form a society who then appoint and vote on school board members,” has taken advantage of some school choice laws enacted by the Iowa Legislature.
One law, passed in 2006, created the Student Tuition Organization.
This program allows non-public schools to raise scholarship money. This is done by partnering with another private school to form a separate non-profit organization.
The non-profit can bring in donations to be distributed to families based on their income. A set cap is imposed by the legislature on how much can be raised each year. Schools get money based on enrollment from the previous year.
And for those that donate? They receive 65 percent of their donation back as a direct tax credit on their Iowa income tax.
“It’s a win-win,” Voss said. “People are lining up to do this. They are happy to help kids attend private school.”
Then, in 2013, Iowa became one of the last states in the nation to allow independent accreditation of private schools. Before, schools had to be accredited by the Iowa Department of Education to benefit from the Student Tuition Organization and other federal funding opportunities, such as transportation cost reimbursement to parents.
Timothy Christian is accredited through Christian Schools International, to which it has belonged for years.
Voss calls this “the single biggest thing that has happened in Iowa in terms of private education.”
But she has her sights set on an even bigger thing for private education. The Iowa Legislature is considering legislation that would create Education Savings Accounts, in which parents receive a portion of the average cost for a child to attend a public school in the state. The parents are then able to put the money toward their children’s schooling. States typically create a list of accepted expenditures, such as schools, therapists, educational specialists, materials and other expenses. This could benefit the some 250 private schools that serve almost 47,000 students in Iowa.
Voss, who has served on the board of the Iowa Association of Christian Schools for the past seven years, said these accounts would give parents “the opportunity to use the taxes that they’ve already paid where they want to use it.”
Even better, she said, “The money is not coming to our school. It goes directly to parents to then use how they choose.”
Voss said if the legislation does not pass this year, she thinks it will within the next two or three.
“We can’t wait,” she said.