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2/3 of Iowa students receiving public funds for private schools previously enrolled in private schools

Roughly $150 million in state scholarships will go to private school tuition
Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-10 20:08:33-04

As Nebraska considers state-funded scholarships for private schools, we took a look at what is happening with Iowa's program. The Iowa Education Savings Accounts allow families to take the per-student state funds, about $7,600, that would normally go to their local public school and apply it to private school tuition.


As Nebraska continues to debate state-funded scholarships for private school students, Iowa is in its first year of allowing taxpayer-funded scholarships for private schools.

I'm Katrina Markel your southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter, looking into the numbers.

First, it's important to know that what's in place in Iowa is not what Nebraska lawmakers are considering.

Iowa has something called education savings accounts.

They unlock the $7,600 the state would have sent to a public school, per each student, and allows families to take it with them to a private school.

According to the Department of Education, more than 16,000 students are enrolled in the ESA program this school year two-thirds were already enrolled in a private school.

That's roughly $120 million heading to private schools.

I reached out to private schools in Council Bluffs to get their perspective, but have yet to hear back from them.

The Iowa State Education Association, which represents public school teachers across the state, explains why it continues to oppose the law.

"Once private tax dollars are siphoned off and sent to private organizations – private schools, private businesses – then that begins to limit the options and availability of high-quality programs for all of our children," said Mike Beranek, the ISEA president.

Josh Bowar a private school administrator with the Iowa Association of Christian Schools said on Iowa Public Television, that it’s been a boost to the enrollment of his school.

“...We’ve increased by 30 kids over the summer and have been tracking what that looks like and those have been due to the ESA,” said Bower.

In Southwest Iowa, almost 400 applications for the ESA program were approved in Pottawattamie County.

By contrast, in rural areas such as Fremont and Montgomery counties, only two applications were approved for each of those counties.

By 2026, when all Iowa students will be eligible for the program, the state’s legislative services agency projects that more than $350 million will go to private schools. Council Bluffs Public Schools says it had 27 students leave the district on ESA scholarships.