Joan Barron: No Middle Ground On School Vouchers

Columnist Joan Barron writes, "It is reasonable to expect a move next year to expand the preschool subsidy program for low income children. I doubt if it will be successful given the newness of the 2023 law that authorized Education Savings Accounts. But eventually it will happen."

Joan Barron

June 22, 20244 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

CHEYENNE —It is reasonable to expect a move next year to expand the preschool subsidy program for low income children.

I doubt if it will be successful given the newness of the 2023 law that authorized Education Savings Accounts. But eventually it will happen. If would be helpful if by then this voucher program or its cousin has been court tested for constitutionality.

Wyoming may be like Kentucky which has a strong constitution that prevents the state from adopting a voucher program without an amendment adopted through a ballot issue.

My home state, Iowa, has allowed some state public funds to go to private and religious schools in the past.

Years ago at a reunion of my Immaculate Conception high school class in Cedar Rapids, I had a chat with a former classmate.

Tim was a lawyer and lobbyist for the Catholic Diocese in Iowa. He boasted a bit about his role in getting money for Catholic schools, I think it was for transportation.

I told him I never would expect Wyoming to follow suit, given the political climate, the state constitution and so on. Iowa went on to develop a full-scale voucher program that allows payment for any private school, religious or otherwise.

Under a new law passed in 2023, private school eligibility for the 2024-25 school year was expanded to include families with household incomes of $111,000 for a family of four.

Next year all K-12 students in Iowa are eligible regardless of family income.

Sounds great, right? But the question persists as to whether private schools produce better educated children than K-12 public schools.

And it is difficult to find a neutral ground and an impartial opinion on the internet.

That’s important to me because I never attended a public school. I attended a Catholic school for 12 years (first two years of high school at an all- girls academy) then on to the university.

Friends who were in public school would tell of all the amenities they had that we didn’t, like woodworking or carpentry, regular physical education classes, a cafeteria with hot lunch, school buses and a larger array of classes to choose from.

What we did get were small classes with dedicated teachers and education in basic courses that enabled us to get a job after graduation and/or provided some preparation for college, although not enough.

To get educated on the pros and cons of a wide open voucher system, like Iowa’s, I found one assessment published by “State Line Iowa,” a digital newsletter.

The report by Josh Cowan, identified as an educational policy expert and an education professor at Michigan State University, said the voucher program, paid for with taxpayer dollars, was touted as a great equalizer for access to education and one that would empower parents.

It turned out, he said, that two thirds of Iowa families that signed up for the vouchers were already sending their children to private schools, including charter schools and religious schools.

So the program, he claims, is being used primarily as a tax rebate for families with children already in private schools. The program also has provided a new source of income for the private schools.

Most of the schools have increased their tuition rates, a development that was cited in a separate Princeton University study.

More concerning is Cowan’s claim that during the last decade or so he has seen lower academic performances in other states of kids who transferred to private schools due to the vouchers.

The primary reason for the academic drop-offs, he said, is because people assume private schools are these “elite academies,” This is often not the case. Most are church- based schools.

Looking for testimony from the pro-voucher side, I found an internet page of research from the America Federation for Children Growth Fund, described as the largest school choice organization

“The case for school choice is overwhelming. Despite a handful of self-selected negative data points by some in the media, the vast majority of credible evidence shows that school choice programs improve academic outcomes for not only the program participants but also the students in public schools; save taxpayers money and reduce racial segregation” is the message.

The federation then lists a list of positive survey results that are the opposite of academic drop-offs.

There’s is no middle ground on this one.


Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-2534 or

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Joan Barron

Political Columnist