County-by-county distribution of education savings accounts released

By: - August 8, 2023 4:04 pm

The Iowa Department of Education oversees K-12 schooling in Iowa. (Classroom photo by Getty Images; logo courtesy of the Iowa Department of Education)

Of the 29,025 students who applied for an Education Savings Account during the month of June, 18,627 have been approved, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

The department says less than 1,000 applications remain under review.

The savings accounts are not available for all Iowans this school year. The program, currently in the first year of a phased, three-year rollout, is open to all public school students, all students who are incoming kindergarteners, and all students whose family is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level, which is currently $83,250 for a family of four. 

Of the applicants, 19% were above the 300% of the federal poverty line threshold, according to a July news release from the governor’s office. 

According to the same release, 40% of approved applications at that time were students planning to move from public to private schools. The remaining 60% are students who financially qualify and are already attending private schools.

The law does not specify a maximum amount for accepted applications. All Iowa students who meet the criteria will be eligible for an education savings account, meaning the program will exceed the original year-one estimation of $106.9 million, which approximated 14,000 students. 

County count

The Iowa Department of Education released a county-by-county breakdown of approved ESA applications. Polk County, which has 22 private schools, the most in the state, saw more approved applications than any county with 3,144, the next closest county, Linn, had 1,318 approved applications. 

Decatur, Louisa and Ringgold counties had no approved applications. Those three counties do not have private schools.

The full list provided by the Iowa Department of Education:

Counties with 300 or more approved applications: Polk, 3,144; Linn, 1,318; Scott, 1,306; Sioux, 1,183; Black Hawk, 942; Woodbury, 916; Dubuque, 882; Johnson, 572; Dallas, 505; Carroll, 427; Cerro Gordo, 338; Webster, 369; Pottawattamie, 383 and Plymouth, 411.

Counties with 200-299 approved applications: Lee, 212; Clinton, 217; Marshall, 231; O’Brien, 250; Delaware, 282 and Marion, 297.

Counties with 100-199 approved applications: Jones, 111; Wapello, 111; Jefferson, 112; Story, 112; Allamakee, 113; Floyd, 113; Bremer, 118; Washington, 140; Clay, 142; Jasper, 144; Jackson, 145; Crawford, 152; Buena Vista, 152; Des Moines, 157; Muscatine, 159; Winneshiek, 168; Boone, 170; Kossuth, 183; Mahaska, 188; Lyon, 196 and Warren, 197.

Counties with 50-99 approved applications: Union, 52; Poweshiek, 55; Iowa, 64; Benton, 71; Palo Alto, 75; Humboldt, 83; Howard, 87 and Buchanan, 93.

Counties with 25-49 approved applications: Clayton, 25; Butler 26; Franklin, 26; Winnebago, 27; Sac, 29; Calhoun, 30; Madison, 35; Fayette, 37; Pocahontas, 43; Page, 46; Chickasaw, 46; Hamilton, 49 and Shelby, 49.

Counties with 1-24 approved applications: Emmet, 1; Clarke, 2; Cass, 2; Montgomery, 2; Monroe, 2; Wayne, 2; Fremont, 2; Mitchell, 3; Guthrie, 3; Appanoose, 3; Taylor, 4; Van Buren, 4; Adams, 5;  Keokuk, 6; Tama, 7; Wright, 7; Davis, 7; Audubon, 7; Lucas, 7; Worth, 8; Greene, 9; Harrison, 10;  Dickinson, 12; Monona, 13; Ida, 14; Adair, 15; Cherokee, 17; Hardin, 17; Hancock, 17; Osceola, 18; Henry, 20; Mills, 21; Grundy, 21 and Cedar, 23.

Forty-two Iowa counties do not have private schools.

“I believe education is the great equalizer, which is why it was so important to remove the boundaries that have existed between public and private schools for too long and to ensure families can send their children to the school of their choice,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a May video

The bill allowing ESAs passed the Iowa Legislature with a Republican majority in January, and has since received praise from Republican presidential candidates, political commentators and out-of-state education organizations.


State Rep. Sharon Steckman, D-Mason City, the ranking member of the House Education Committee, has been critical of the program, calling it “bad news” for public schools in a Monday news release.

“Gov. Reynolds gave the special interests and private schools a huge bonus today,” Steckman said in the news release. “It’s just the first installment of her promise to shift over $1 billion of our tax dollars from public schools to private schools instead. It’s bad news for over 90% of the Iowa kids in public schools who will have fewer opportunities and it’s even worse for those public-school kids in rural areas.”

State Auditor Rob Sand has also criticized the program, saying private schools are not subject to the same oversight as public schools such as open meetings, maintaining public records and following budget laws, which could open the door for irresponsible spending.

“After a private school gets public dollars as tuition, they could buy a teacher or teachers brand new Ford Mustang convertibles in the name of incentive pay,” Sand said in a statement. “The public may not find out at all, and if they did, there may be no recourse for taxpayers. That is flatly, fundamentally irresponsible.”

Students with accepted applications will have $7,635 eligible to be spent on tuition and education-related costs in the Odyssey portal, the New York-based software company that received a contract to host the state’s ESA program. Under the ESA program, the state will still grant public school districts $1,205 per private school student in the public school’s district. 

Students can only spend ESA money at a private school, if the private school accepts the student. Unused money will be returned to the state’s general fund.


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Jay Waagmeester
Jay Waagmeester

Jay is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch intern. Jay is based in Ames and is currently a senior majoring in journalism and marketing at Iowa State University. He has interned at New Century Press and contributed to the Iowa State Daily.