Fact Checker: Do School Vouchers Save Money and Improve School Performance?

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to supporters March 11 during a campaign event for his re-election at the Kirkwood Center hotel in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Governor Kim Reynolds wants to persuade Iowa House Republicans to support an Iowa Senate bill that would provide private scholarships, or vouchers, to up to 10,000 Iowa students.

But many rural lawmakers balked because public school leaders said the proposal would drain funding from their districts.

Reynolds and U.S. Representative Ashley Hinson held a private meeting with parents May 4 in Marion to discuss school policies adopted by the Linn-Mar Community School District to protect LGBTQ students.

At this meeting, Reynolds’ team distributed a flyer on private school vouchers, Iowa K-12 school performance, and school funding. The fact checker decided to investigate these allegations.

To claim: “Funding for public education in Iowa has increased by $1.12 billion since fiscal year 2012.”

State funding for K-12 school districts began at $3.48 billion in fiscal year 2012 and reached $4.6 billion in fiscal year 2022, according to the Iowa Department of Management.

The allocation for the current financial year represents a 2.5% increase over the previous year, an amount that some critics have called “woefully insufficient”, in part because of inflation which is driving up the costs for food, bus fuel and other needs. Senator Kevin Kinney, D-Oxford, wrote in a Gazette guest column that the increase is small enough that 81 school districts “won’t get an extra dollar in state funding over Last year”.

Yet it is true that state budget funding for education has increased by more than a billion dollars. To note: A

To claim: “For nearly 20 years, Iowa students’ math and reading scores have been declining.”

The National Educational Progress Assessment is a congressionally mandated program that assesses educational progress by testing fourth, eighth, and 12th graders. overtime.

Seventy-three percent of fourth-graders in Iowa had met or exceeded basic reading skills in 1992, but in 2019 that number had dropped to 68%.

Fourth-grade math scores have increased over the same period, from 72% of students achieving basic skills in 1992 to 81% in 2019.

Seventy-two percent of eighth graders achieved basic math skills in 2019, down from 76 percent in 1992.

In 2003, 79% of eighth graders achieved basic reading skills, up from 73% in 2019.

Because of these generally lower scores, Iowa is no longer well above the national average on the National Assessment as of 2019. Program data may also indicate that the rest of the country’s test scores have caught up with those in Iowa, but these are real results in math and reading. fluctuated downward over the nearly two-decade period. To note: A.

To claim: “65 studies of the financial impact of school choice found that the programs generated savings for taxpayers…”

For the supply, the governor’s office sent the link to a 60-page slideshow from EdChoice, an Indiana-based nonprofit that advocates for school choice.

EdChoice reports that 68 studies found private school choice programs generated savings for taxpayers, four studies found the programs were cost neutral, and five studies found private school choice costs more. dear.

Forty of these studies are tax analyzes by Martin Lueken, director of EdChoice’s Center for Tax Research and Education.

Lueken compares the amount of each private scholarship — or college savings account in some states — with the amount of funding the state pays for each student’s education in public schools.

“In fiscal year 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated between $12.1 billion and $27.8 billion in cumulative net tax savings for state and local taxpayers,” it said. he writes.

A 2021 policy brief written by two Ball State University professors found Indiana State spent $88 million less in 2019-20 with students attending private schools under the program. Indiana Choice scholarships if those students attended public schools.

However, a 2020 report from PEER Mississippi, the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, showed that college savings accounts for students with disabilities cost the state $1 million. more in fiscal 2019 and $2.1 million more in fiscal 2020.

The Iowa Senate-approved private scholarship program would provide up to $5,520 in tuition assistance to up to 10,000 students from low-to-moderate income families.

While that’s less than the $12,386 federal and state allocation for each Iowa student in 2022, the difference would be placed into an operational sharing fund for districts that share administrators.

The scholarship program is designed to cost the same as what the state currently spends. But it would cost $55 million more in fiscal year 2023 because the number of students attending each district is already locked in, and scholarships for those who decide to leave for private schools would cost more, according to the nonpartisan legislative services agency.

To note: Reynolds is correct, several studies have shown that voucher programs in other states have saved money. We demote it to a B grade because most of the studies cited in the leaflet come from an advocacy group and are not more inclusive.

To claim: “Studies show that choosing a private school has a positive impact on student success, increasing the chances of graduating from high school, enrolling in college, and earning a degree. “

The governor’s office again referenced EdChoice, which says five studies found “positive effects on educational attainment for at least a subgroup of students.”

The first of these studies is a 2021 report published by the Institute for Education Sciences within the US Department of Education.

Researchers studied the academic performance of Indiana students in traditional public schools, private schools, and charter schools after the adoption of Indiana’s voucher program in 2011. They found that students attending private schools without a voucher had the best performance, while students in charter schools had the lowest.

In math, 72% of traditional public school students met or exceeded standards, compared to 79% of voucher recipients. The trend was similar in the arts of the English language.

Three of the studies listed by EdChoice come from the Urban Institute, a left-leaning nonprofit research organization.

The Urban Institute noted in a 2019 report that students enrolled in private scholarship programs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the state of Florida were more likely to enroll in college than their peers from similar public schools. The report noted in Washington, DC, that students who earned vouchers were slightly less likely to go to college.

To note: While some studies have shown a slight increase in academic performance and college enrollment for some students, at least one other study has not. Category B.

To claim: “Credible evidence demonstrates that school choice improves academic outcomes, even for public schools…”

Some proponents of school choice say public schools will up their game to compete with private schools once vouchers are an option for families. Several of the EdChoice studies cited by Reynolds showed small increases in performance in public schools as state voucher programs geared up.

For example, a 2020 working paper showed modest increases in standardized test scores and declines in truancy and suspension in Florida public schools before Florida tax credit scholarships were introduced in 2001.

A 2016 study published in the Journal of Economics and Finance by three Penn State professors found that the CEO Horizon Scholarship Program in San Antonio, Texas had “small positive effects” on public schools – from less in the early years.

Yusuf Canbolat, a doctoral student at Indiana University, studied Indiana’s voucher program over the long term and found that public schools with more nearby private school options saw a “decrease considerable proficiency rates due to the flight of relatively successful students from public schools to private schools.”

To note: Several studies show an improvement in public school performance at the start of voucher programs, but this does not appear to continue over the long term. Category B.


The claims in Reynolds’ flyer are pretty accurate — we give it a B overall.

She uses these statements as evidence that private scholarships are needed in Iowa, but there are still unanswered questions. Why have Iowa test scores dropped? Is it because public schools don’t have enough competition, or is it because K-12 funding hasn’t kept up with inflation — or some other reason?

And as to whether vouchers would improve academic performance, one of the Ball State researchers said: …”The impacts of school choice on student academic achievement in Indiana did not yet been established…”


The Fact Checker team verifies statements made by an Iowa political candidate/leader or national candidate/leader about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our marketplace.

Claims must be independently verifiable. We assign statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim that you think needs checking, email us at [email protected]

The members of the Fact Checker team are Elijah Decious, Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne and Michaela Ramm. This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan and Michaela Ramm.

Virginia C. Taylor