Price Tag For Reynolds’ Voucher Program Could Hit $221 Million

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds reacts after signing a bill that creates education savings accounts, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

By Ty Rushing

July 6, 2023

Iowa taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $221.6 million in K-12 private school costs in the 2023-24 school year, according to the latest numbers from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office.

This estimate is based on if all 29,025 K-12 students who applied for Reynolds’ new private school voucher program—called Students First Education Savings Accounts—are approved and receive $7,635, the same amount appropriated by the state to support the education of each public school student.

Reynolds’ office noted that 17,481 applications have been approved thus far, which amounts to $133.5 million in taxpayer dollars. Iowa was only projected to spend $107 million this first year of the voucher program. There are income restrictions for applicants during the first two years of the program’s existence, but no caps beginning in year three, meaning the cost to taxpayers is likely to increase in future years.

In the 2022-23 school year, Iowa had 481,713 public school students and 36,901 children enrolled in non-public schools, according to the Iowa Department of Education. The number of children enrolled in non-public schools is likely to increase dramatically this fall, though. Data from the governor’s office shows that 60% of students who applied to the program were already enrolled in private school, while the other 40% are transitioning from public school. 

Since Reynolds’ voucher program passed earlier this year, a number of private schools in Iowa have raised tuition rates—some by more than 10%, ensuring that private school education remains out of reach for lower-income Iowans who were allegedly going to benefit from the program.

In a release, Reynolds celebrated the news of her program’s higher-than-expected applicant pool while the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA), which represents more than 50,000 public employees, decried the update.

“The tremendous response from Iowa families demonstrates there’s both a need and a strong desire for school choice in our state,” Reynolds said.“Allowing parents to choose the education that’s best for their children levels the playing field and creates equal opportunities for Iowa’s students.”

ISEA President Mike Beranek said that more than 90% of families are supported by public schools and questioned the redirection of funds that could help those kids and families for a select few.

“Imagine what an unlimited budget like the one for Governor Reynold’s private school voucher program would mean for Iowa’s public school students,” he said. “State-of-the-art labs and equipment, up-to-date technology, and laptops give every student an equal chance for success. We could have nurses and counselors in every building, one-to-one assistance for any child who needs it, music, art, and shop supplies to develop new talent and skills, and the list goes on.

“Unfortunately for Iowans, the governor and the majority party in the statehouse have decided that unlimited budgets are reserved for just a select few Iowans,” he said. “A voucher program that would initially have cost Iowa taxpayers almost a billion dollars over the next three years will cost Iowans even more.”


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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