Report: Majority of Iowa’s voucher recipients already went to private school

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

January 29, 2024

Two-thirds of students who received a private school voucher in Iowa this year were already enrolled in private school, according to new data from the Iowa Department of Education.

The department released certified enrollment numbers—taken annually on Oct. 1—for public, private, and charter schools on Friday after about a month’s delay and the results were as many predicted.

“Gov. [Kim] Reynolds’ and Republican lawmakers’ private school voucher scheme is a giveaway to families who have already chosen private education,” said Iowa Senate Minority Leader Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque).

“Two in every three voucher recipients already attend private school, meaning they’re now getting a taxpayer subsidy for a service they could already afford,” she continued.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ new voucher program—called the Students First Education Savings Accounts—provides applicants with $7,635 in taxpayer funds toward a private school education. The program had 16,757 certified participants this year, which comes out to $127,939,695 in taxpayer funds going to the state’s private schools.

The 2023-24 school year was the inaugural year for the program and although more than 18,000 applications were approved, not every student wound up at a private school when the enrollment count was taken.

The first two years of the voucher program have financial guidelines, but by year three there will be no restrictions. In next year’s state budget, Reynolds recommended an allocation of $179,190,414 toward vouchers, a $51.2 million increase from this year.

The original Iowa Legislative Services Agency (LSA) estimates for the voucher program were $106.9 million in year one and $156.3 million in year two. The LSA projected that the first four years of the program would cost $878 million and that might wind up being too low.

Jochum noted that of the nearly $128 million going to private school education this school year, $85 million of it was going to families who could already afford private school tuition and it came at the expense of the nearly 484,000 public school kids in Iowa.

“Private school vouchers are a terrible deal for Iowa,” Jochum said. “Vouchers shortchange the vast majority of Iowa students, while committing public money to private schools without the accountability and transparency taxpayers deserve.”

 

  • 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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