May 7, 2024

Patrick O’Donnell: Reynolds’ voucher program is about destroying public education

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Patrick O’Donnell is a former school district superintendent and teacher in Iowa, and he sees through the governor’s choice program.

The first year of private school vouchers is ending for Iowa students from preschool to 12th grade. The vouchers, created under the Students First Act, provide public money for parents to pay their children’s tuition to an accredited Iowa private school.

“Allowing parents to choose the education that’s best for their children levels the playing field and creates equal opportunities for Iowa’s students,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said, describing the voucher program’s goal.

But does the program meet that goal? To answer that, it’s useful to examine the experiences of states that have similar systems.

Ohio Republicans in the state’s House of Representatives said their EdChoice vouchers plan would “safeguard lower-income families and offers options beyond traditional public schools.”

But instead of promoting choice, much of the nearly $400 million for expanded Ohio school vouchers went to students who already attend private schools, the editorial board for and The Plain Dealer reported. They add: “The law’s lack of transparency and data-reporting guardrails forces parents making ‘school choice’ for academic reasons, rather than out of religious or other motivations, to blindly assume that a private or parochial school is the best choice, without actual data on educational performance.”

Arizona has a similar story. Save Our Schools Arizona, a public school advocacy organization, reported that the state’s voucher program went from costing $64 million a year in 2024 to $125 million a year in 2025. Some 75% of voucher users had no history of public school attendance.

Arizona now faces a $400 million budget shortfall this year and a $450 million deficit in the coming fiscal year. The deficiencies are mainly due to the skyrocketing costs of a 2022 voucher program expansion and a 2021 tax cut that went into full effect in November 2023. The price tag for Arizona’s voucher program increased by $64.5 million in FY 2024 and by $125.4 million in FY 2025.

“By chronically underfunding Arizona public schools and pushing through unaccountable universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts” – the voucher program – districts across the state are forced ‘to make cuts that negatively affect students, educators, and their communities,’” the group says.

Also: In Arkansas, 95% of new voucher users have children who were already enrolled in private schools. In Florida, that number is 70%.

Read the full piece here at Iowa Starting Line.

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