Iowans Show Support for Flexible School Choice Programs, Want More Options

Those familiar with the private school choice world are used to hearing about developments and updates from the “Big Fish” states—places like Arizona, Florida and Wisconsin, which have among the largest school choice enrollments and were at the forefront of the modern school choice movement.

But did you know Iowa, the 31st most populous state in the country, ranks fifth in the nation for most tax-credit scholarships awarded to students? The 15-year-old School Tuition Organization Tax Credit helped 12,538 students enroll in private schools of choice during the 2019–20 school year, a 16 percent increase from the previous school year.

And recent polling shows Iowans want to see programs like it grow to serve more families.

EdChoice and Braun Research, Inc. polled Iowa adults and parents in mid- and late-December of 2020 to learn more about their perceptions of K–12 education and school choice in the state. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) said they support increasing the program’s credit cap. Those living in urban areas (72%) and parents (71%) were among the groups with the highest levels of support.

Iowa lawmakers are considering expanding the state’s educational options. Gov. Kim Reynolds’ plan calls for private school scholarships for students zoned to low-ranked schools, increased charter schools, and less limitations on open enrollment.

The poll found support for charter schools in Iowa increased by 21 percentage points (to 58%) from the baseline question after respondents were given a definition of charter schools. This isn’t entirely surprising when considering a fifth (21%) of Iowa residents were previously unfamiliar with charter schools.

Despite this lack of familiarity with school choice options, Iowan parents’ preferences for their children’s educational setting reveals a variety. Depending on the constraints of the question they were asked, Iowa parents preferred private schools and public district schools, but across the board parents schooling preferences didn’t match up with actual Iowa enrollment patterns.

Though a minority of parents preferred homeschooling, Iowans grew more experienced with homeschooling during the pandemic-affected 2020–21 school year. The proportion of parents choosing to fully homeschool more than doubled from 5 percent in February to 11 percent for the new school year, as compared to more modest enrollment pattern changes for the public district, charter and private schooling sectors. More than a fourth of Iowa parents are more supportive of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic.

For more information on Iowans’ perceptions on K–12 education and school choice, check out the full polling brief.