Iowa State Regulations
Updated Novemeber 16, 2016
State Regulation of Private Schools (Revised July 2009) is the last full report.
Accreditation, Registration, Licensing, and Approval
- Accreditation: required
- By definition, “nonpublic school” means any school not directly supported by taxation that is accredited pursuant to Iowa Code §256.11. Iowa Code §280.2.
- The Iowa Board of Education has established rules and procedures for accrediting all nonpublic schools offering instruction in levels Pre-K–12. Iowa Code §256.11. The general accreditation standards can be found in Iowa Administrative Code (Iowa Admin. Code) 281 Chapter 12.
- The authorities in charge of an accredited nonpublic school must prescribe reasonable rules for the punishment of truants. Iowa Code §299.9.
- A nonpublic school may also be accredited by an accrediting agency on the Iowa state board of education’s list of accrediting agencies. Iowa Code §256.11(16)(a) and Iowa Admin. Code rule (r.) 281-12.10 (256).
- Registration: no requirements
- Licensing: no requirements
- Approval: no requirements
- Nonpublic schools teachers that are employed by schools accredited by the Iowa State Board of Education must hold a license or certificate for the position of employment held. Iowa Admin. Code R.281-12.4(8).
- The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that “The state has a clear right to set minimum educational standards [including instruction by a certified teacher] for all its children and a corresponding responsibility to see to it that those standards are honored.” Johnson v. Charles City Community Schools, 368 N.W.2d 74 (1975).
- An accredited nonpublic school must maintain adequate staffing. Iowa Code §280.14.
- A nonpublic school superintendent may serve as an elementary school or high school principal in that school provided that the superintendent holds the proper licensure/certification. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-12.4(4).
Length of School Year and Days
- Nonpublic schools must prescribe an attendance policy which requires student attendance for at least 148 days, with at least 37 days each quarter. Iowa Code §280.3.
- An accredited nonpublic school calendar must include at least 180 days or 1080 hours of instruction. Iowa Code §279.10(1).
- Iowa State Board of Education rules require that a “multicultural, gender-fair approach” be used by state accredited nonpublic schools and that global perspectives be incorporated into all levels of the educational program. Iowa Code §256.11.
- State accredited nonpublic schools must prescribe a minimum educational program as defined under Iowa Code §256.11 unless otherwise provided by law or granted an exemption by the Iowa Board of Education. The section outlines a comprehensive curriculum for grades K to six, seven to eight and nine to 12 from traditional course offerings to instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Iowa Code §§256.11 and 280.3.
- As a condition of graduation, state accredited nonpublic schools must require private school students (grades nine to 12) to complete: (1) one unit of U.S. history; (2) 1/2 unit of U.S. government, which must include a study of the constitution and relevant voting statutes and procedures; (3) four years of English and language arts; (4) three years of mathematics; (5) three years of science; and (6) three years of social studies. Additionally students must participate in one-eighth a unit of physical education activities each semester. Iowa Code §§256.11(5)(b), §256.7(26)(a), and §256.11(5)(g).
- Nonpublic schools must incorporate career education into the curricular and co-curricular education experience from grades pre-K–Pre-K12. The essential elements of career education must include 1) awareness of self in relation to others and the needs of society; 2) exploration of employment opportunities and experience in personal decision making; and 3) experiences which will help students to integrate work values and work skills into their lives. Iowa Code §280.9.
- Nonpublic schools serving grades nine to 12 must offer and teach five units of occupational education subjects (e.g. business/office occupations, trade and industrial occupations, consumer and family sciences or home economics occupations, agriculture occupations, marketing and health occupations). Instruction must be competency-based, articulated with postsecondary programs of study, and may include field, laboratory, or on-the-job training. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-12.55(5)(j).
- Every public school district makes available an approved driver education course to all resident students, including students attending nonpublic schools. The courses may be offered at the public school or at the nonpublic school facilities. Iowa Code §321.178(1)(c).
- Nonpublic schools may participate in Iowa’s community-based workplace learning program, Workstart. Workstart is a voluntary collaborative program between business and Iowa’s secondary and postsecondary education system designed to provide high school students the academic and job-specific skills needed to enter the workforce. Iowa Code §258.17.
- Instruction in all secular subjects taught in nonpublic schools must be in the English language except when a foreign language is deemed appropriate or when the student is non-English-speaking. A nonpublic school must provide special instruction for non-English-speaking students until the child demonstrates a functional ability to speak, write, read and understand the English language. Iowa Code §280.4.
- Private school students may enroll in public schools for courses not offered at the private school. Private schools may comply with state standards for required courses in this manner. Iowa Code §256.12(1).
- Nonpublic schools may obtain licenses to conduct games of skill, games of chance, bingo and raffles at bona fide school functions, such as carnivals, fall festivals, bazaars and similar events. Iowa Code §99B.12. One or more game nights can be held using play money for student participation without a license if the accredited nonpublic school approves. Iowa Code §99B.62(2).
Recordkeeping and Reports
- Each accredited nonpublic school shall maintain a permanent student record and a cumulative student record in compliance with Iowa’s general accreditation standards. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-12.3(4).
- The principal of an accredited nonpublic school must furnish, when requested by the secretary of the local public school district, a report of the names, ages, number of days in attendance, and course of study of each pupil at the school. The school district provides the necessary forms. The general request may be made once during each school year and at any time for individual cases. Iowa Code §299.3.
- The governing authorities of nonpublic schools twice a year must offer to all students who are at least 17 1/2 years of age the opportunity to register to vote. Iowa Code §280.9A(3).
- Nonpublic schools may adopt policies regarding valid reasons for excused absences from school. Iowa Code §299.1.
- As part of Iowa’s uniform school requirements, nonpublic schools must appoint an advisory committee to develop goals and plans to meet the major educational needs of their students and to evaluate and report on the school’s progress annually. Iowa Code §280.12.
- Nonpublic schools must maintain a suitable flagstaff and raise the United States flag and the Iowa state banner on all school days when weather conditions permit. Iowa Code §280.5.
Health and Safety Requirements
- Employees of accredited nonpublic schools may not inflict corporal punishment on a student. The employee may use reasonable force for the protection of the employee, student, other students, or property. Iowa Code §280.21 and Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-103.
- Nonpublic schools cannot require non-administrative personnel to perform any special health services or intrusive non-emergency medical services for students unless the personnel are licensed or otherwise qualified and have consented to perform the services. Iowa Code §280.23.
- It is a misdemeanor to possess or consume alcoholic liquors, wine, or beer while attending a private school-related function. Iowa Code §123.46(2).
- Nonpublic schools must prescribe procedures for handling child abuse reports alleged against an employee or agent of the school in accordance with state guidelines. Iowa Code §280.17.
- Private schools must cooperate with investigations of child abuse conducted by the Department of Human Services. The school must provide confidential access to the child alleged to be abused and to other children to obtain relevant information. The investigator may observe the child but a witness must be present. Any child age 10 or older can terminate contact with the investigator by stating his desire to do so. Iowa Code §232.71B(7).
- Nonpublic schools must provide eye- and ear-protective devices for students and teachers participating in shop or laboratory courses that pose a potential hazard. Iowa Code §§280.10 and 280.11.
- Private schools must conduct two fire drills and two tornado drills between July 1 and Dec. 31 of each year and again between Jan. 1 and June 30 of each year. Doors and exits of all rooms and buildings must be unlocked when occupied. Fire/tornado warning systems must be installed and first-aid fire extinguishers available. Private schools are inspected by the state fire marshal’s office or the local city fire department at least once every two years to assess compliance with the fire-safety standards and to identify potential fire hazards. Iowa Code §100.31.
- Iowa students attending accredited nonpublic schools are entitled to transportation on the same basis as that provided public school students. Parents may be reimbursed for some transportation costs. Iowa Code §§285.1(3), 285 and 285.16.
- School bus drivers must meet statutory qualifications (e.g., be 18 years of age, physically and mentally competent). Nonpublic schools may immediately suspend a driver, pending a hearing, for the use of nonprescription controlled substances or alcoholic beverages during work hours. (See statute for other grounds for immediate dismissal.) Iowa Code §321.375.
- Private school buses are registered without charge upon application to the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles. Iowa Code §321.18.
- School Districts may make nonsectarian textbooks available to pupils attending accredited nonpublic schools upon request of the pupil or the pupil’s parent. Availability is comparable to the amount of textbook funds appropriated to public school students by the general assembly. Iowa Code §301.1.
- School districts and area education agency boards shall provide school testing to children attending nonpublic schools in the same manner and to the same extent provided to public school students. Iowa Code §256.12(2).
- Area education agencies (AEAs) shall provide educational and special education services to accredited nonpublic schools and may provide other services, at the discretion of the AEA, and may charge a user fee for the non-mandatory services. Iowa Code §§273.2, 273.3(19), and 257.37.
- School districts and area education agency boards shall provide special education services; diagnostic services for speech, hearing and psychological purposes; remedial education programs; and guidance services to children attending nonpublic schools in the same manner and to the same extent provided to public school students. Iowa Code §256.12(2).
Nursing and Health
- School districts and area education agency boards shall provide health services to children attending nonpublic schools in the same manner and to the same extent provided to public school students. Iowa Code §256.12(2).
- Nonpublic schools may operate school lunch programs with appropriated state funds but are not required. Meals served under the program must be nutritionally adequate. Iowa Code §283A.10. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-58.1.
- State accredited private school students attending school within the local education agency’s boundaries may be served with media and educational services through Iowa’s area 15 education agencies. Iowa Code §§ 273.2, 273.3(19), and 257.37.
- School Districts may make textbooks (which include electronic textbooks, software, laptops, and other personal portable computing devices) available to pupils attending accredited nonpublic schools upon request of the pupil or the pupil’s parent. Availability is comparable to the amount of textbook funds appropriated to public school students by the general assembly for nonreligious instructional purposes. Iowa Code §301.1.
- Accredited or approved nonpublic schools are included in the Iowa Board of Education’s plans for the use of telecommunications as an instructional tool. Representatives of nonpublic schools serve on an advisory committee to make recommendations to the state board. Iowa Code §256.7(7)
- Certain nonpublic schools teachers are eligible for teacher shortage forgivable loan repayment program fund by the College Student Aid Commission. Iowa Code §261.111.
- Every accredited nonpublic school must provide for the professional development of its staff. Professional development activities should align with school achievement goals; be based on student achievement and staff needs; and deliver research-based instructional practices. The school board annually budgets specified funds to implement the professional development plan. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-12.7(2)(a)-(b).
Reimbursement for Performing State and Local Functions
- No state policy currently exists.
- The sales price of all goods, wares, or merchandise, or services used for educational purposes sold to any private, nonprofit educational institution is tax exempt. For the purpose of this subsection, “educational institution” means an institution which primarily functions as a school, college, or university with students, faculty, and an established curriculum. Iowa Code §423.3(17).
Public Aid for Private Education
- Constitutional Provisions: “The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; nor shall any person be compelled to attend any place of worship, pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing places of worship, or the maintenance of any minister, or ministry.” Iowa Constitution, art. I, § 3.
- Programs for Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Schools:
- An education tax credit allows parents and students in accredited public or private schools in Iowa to receive tax credits for tuition and textbook expenses. This credit does not apply to expenses related to teaching religious tenets, doctrine, or worship. The amount of credit allowed is 25 percent of the first $1,000 that the taxpayer has paid per dependent. Iowa Code §422.12.
- The school tuition organization tax credit makes taxpayers that voluntarily contribute to a qualified “school tuition organizations” eligible to receive an individual income tax credit. The credit is 65 percent of the value of the contribution. The contributing taxpayer is not allowed to specify which students receive the scholarships. A school tuition organization is qualified if it is a nonprofit organization that supports private school scholarships. The annual family income of a student eligible to receive the scholarship cannot exceed an amount equal to or three times the most recent published federal poverty guidelines. Iowa Code §422.11S.
Nonpublic School Advisory Committee
- By statute, Iowa has established a nonpublic school advisory committee to advise the Iowa Board of Education on matters affecting nonpublic schools, including standards for teacher certification and approval of nonpublic schools. Iowa Code §256.15.
Home Education Programs
- Home instruction satisfies compulsory attendance requirements as “private instruction,” which may either be competent private instruction or independent private instruction. Iowa Code §299A.1(1).
- “Competent private instruction” consists of 148 instructional days a year, in which 37 instructional days occur each quarter, by or under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. Iowa Code §299A.1(2)(a).
- “Independent private instruction” means unaccredited instruction that : (1) does not enroll more than four unrelated students, (2) does not charge tuition, fees, or other remuneration for instruction, and (3) is not a nonpublic school. It is exempt from all state statutes and administrative rules applicable to a school, a school board, or a school district, except as otherwise provided in Iowa Code §299 and Iowa Code §299A. Iowa Code §299A.1(2)(b).
Initial and Renewal Applications
- A parent or legal guardian providing “competent private instruction” may file a report with the resident district by Sept. 1 or within 14 days of beginning home schooling if begun mid-school year. The report must include the name and address of the parent or guardian; name and birth date of the child; number of days of instruction (minimum of 148); name and address of the person providing the instruction and an indication of whether or not the instructor holds a valid Iowa practitioner license or teaching certificate appropriate to the age and grade level of the child; an outline of the courses of study; the texts to be used; evidence of immunization; an indication of whether dual enrollment is being sought; whether or not the child is currently identified as a child needing special education; and an indication of which form of annual assessment is being administered. Iowa Admin. Code r..281–31.2((1). This report must be filed if the parent or legal guardian wants to take advantage of school district programs (dual enrollment, homeschool assistance programs, etc.). Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.2(4).
- There is no application requirement for “independent private instruction”. A person providing independent private instruction must provide the following information if asked by the local superintendent or the director of the Iowa Department of Education: (1) a report identifying the primary instructor, (2) name and location of the authority responsible for the independent private instruction, and (3) the names of the students enrolled. Iowa Code § 299A.1(2)(b)(6).
Curriculum and Instruction
- The reporting of “competent private instruction”, must include an outline of the courses of study, the subjects covered, lesson plans and time spent on each course of study. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.2(1)(a)(5).
- For “independent private instruction”, the course of study must include instruction in mathematics, reading and language arts, science, and social studies. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.1(2).
Assessment and Diplomas
- For “competent private instruction” provided by a licensed practitioner, the child’s progress must be monitored by that licensed teacher. If a parent or legal guardian is providing the “competent private instruction,” then he or she may submit an annual report, including the lesson plans, a portfolio of the student’s work, and assessment evaluations to the school district and Iowa Department of Education by June 30. This information will be reviewed yearly by a qualified, licensed Iowa practitioner approved by the local school district to determine whether the child is achieving adequate progress. Iowa Code §299A.2-4(7).
- When a parent or legal guardian provides private instruction to a child who is at least 7 years old without the assistance or supervision of a validly licensed Iowa practitioner, the child is subject to initial baseline testing and an annual evaluation. Standardized testing or portfolio assessment may be chosen. Dual-enrolled students may be tested as part of the public school testing program. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.88. This assessment is required if the child will access any district programs. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.2(4).
- If the results of the evaluations indicate that the student has failed to make adequate progress, the parent or legal guardian must enroll the child in an accredited public or nonpublic school at the beginning of the next school year and shall continue attendance at an accredited public or nonpublic school until adequate progress is achieved. Iowa Code §299A.6.
- When a child has been identified as requiring special education, the child is eligible to receive “competent private instruction” with the written approval of the director of special education of the area education agency of the child’s district of residence. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.1010.
- A child receiving “independent private instruction” has waived special education services. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.10.
Public School Access
- A parent or legal guardian desiring dual enrollment must notify the district of residence not later than Sept. 15 of the school year for which it is sought. A child under dual enrollment may participate in academic or instructional programs or any extracurricular activities in the district on the same basis as any regularly enrolled student. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.66.
- A district may provide available instructional materials to students receiving “competent private instruction” on the same basis as provided to regularly enrolled students when a student is participating in dual enrollment or a homeschool assistance program. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.5(4).
- A public school district must make any approved driver education course available to students receiving private instruction on an equal basis of enrolled students. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.5(6) and r. 281-31.11(a)(1).
- The public school district must make concurrent enrollment in community college programs. available to students receiving “independent private education”. Iowa Admin. Code r. 281-31.11(2)(a).
Information and Legislative
- Iowa Department of Education: Nonpublic School Accreditation
- Iowa Department of Education: Private Instruction (Homeschooling)
- Iowa Legislature: Iowa Code
- Iowa Legislature: Iowa Administrative Code
- Iowa Department of Education: Iowa Core Curriculum
- Iowa Department of Education: Nonpublic Textbook Services
Contact Information – State and Federal Departments of Education
Iowa Department of Education
Grimes State Office Building
400 East 14th St
Des Moines, IA 50319-0146
Phone: (515) 281-5294
Fax: (515) 242-5988
U.S. Department of Education, Iowa
Updated November 16, 2016