These 10 Iowa Counties Would Receive The Most In Voucher Money

Supporters and opponents of Iowa's latest private school voucher bill gather in the Capitol Rotunda. Photo by Starting Line Staff

By Ty Rushing

January 20, 2023

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ staff estimates Iowa taxpayers would spend $341 million annually to pay for students’ private school tuition and related expenses once her voucher plan is fully phased in starting with the 2026-27 school year—and over half of that could be doled out to just ten counties.

The plan would be rolled out over four school years. By the fourth year, any Iowa student who wants to attend a private school would be given $7,598 annually from the state to do so.

One of the criticisms of Reynolds’ voucher proposal—which she says offers true school choice—is that of Iowa’s 99 counties, only 41 counties have private schools and another 23 only have one private school.

So where would most of that money go? Well, it would go to counties with the most private schools which, in most cases, constitute Iowa’s largest counties with the notable exception of some western Iowa counties.

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Here are the Iowa counties that would receive the most money from Reynolds’ voucher plan based on it being fully implemented and if every student counted in the Iowa Department of Education’s private school certified enrollment numbers for the 2022-23 school year took advantage of the program.

  1. Polk County, 22 private schools, $53.8 million: Iowa’s largest county also has the most private schools including Dowling Catholic High School, which by itself would receive a little more than $10 million annually from the state based on its student population of 1,318.
  2. Dubuque County, 12 private schools, $21.1 million: Resurrection Elementary School in Dubuque would receive about $3 million annually from the state based on its student population of 403.
  3. Linn County, 13 private schools, $19.9 million: The biggest recipient of private school voucher funds would be Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, which has 593 students. That institution would receive $4.5 million
  4. Sioux County, 11 private schools, $18.7 million: Sioux Center Christian School, a K-8 facility that serves 505 students, would be the county’s largest recipient and it would receive $3.8 million. 
  5. Scott County, 8 private schools, $15.8 million: Five private schools in Scott County would receive more than $2 million a year, but St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport would be tops at $2.7 million (358 students) while All Saints Catholic School (353 students), also in Davenport, would receive $2.68 million.
  6. Woodbury County, 10 private schools, $12.5 million: Sioux City’s Bishop Heelan High School (399 students) would receive about $3 million, the highest amount in Woodbury County. 
  7. Black Hawk County, 11 private schools, $11.7 million: St. Edward Elementary School (292 students) in Waterloo would receive $2.2 million, which is about $500,000 more than the next highest school, Waterloo’s Columbus Catholic High School (234 students).
  8. Johnson County, six private schools, $9.5 million: The biggest recipients in Johnson County would be the Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. The elementary portion of the facility would receive $3.5 million (472 students) while the middle/high school would receive $2.7 million (363 students).
  9. Carroll County, 2 private schools, $8 million: The Carroll-based Kuemper Catholic School system would receive all $8 million via its high school (280 students) and elementary/middle school (778 students).
  10. Plymouth County, 5 private schools, $6.4 million: The big winner here would be the Le-Mars-based Gehlen Catholic School system. The elementary school (271 students) would receive $2 million and the middle/high school would receive $1.6 million (217 students.)

Collectively, those 10 counties alone would stand to receive $177.4 million annually in private school voucher funds. That amount is more than the annual budget for most of Iowa’s 328 public school districts including larger districts such as Ames, Johnston, Linn-Mar, Mason City, and Urbandale.

Meanwhile, 41 counties in Iowa have no private school. Those areas of the state would likely receive little to no new funds from Reynolds’ proposal.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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