The four Iowa Catholic bishops urge state lawmakers to adopt legislation that enacts Education Savings Accounts, a tool that allows parents to choose the best and most suitable education for their children regardless of economic standing.
Through ESAs, the state would deposit funds each year in an account that parents of nonpublic school children could access for tuition, fees and tutoring. The funds deposited in the account would be the average state foundation aid per pupil. Schools are typically funded with state aid, local property taxes and federal funds.
The bishops, through the Iowa Catholic Conference, issued a statement urging support for ESAs at the start of Catholic Schools Week, which began Jan. 25.
“The Iowa Catholic Conference, with the support of thousands of Iowans, asks the legislature to enact an ESA program during the 2015 legislative session,” the bishops wrote. “This innovative idea would further level the playing field for parents who lack the resources to choose freely their children’s education setting or who are struggling to keep their children in the school of their choice.”
Iowa is a leader in supporting education choice. For example, the state allows for “open enrollment” for some public school parents, provides the tuition tax credit and offers state-funded preschool. In 2006, lawmakers enacted legislation that established school tuition organizations. Named the Catholic Tuition Organization in the Diocese of Des Moines, this organization accepts donations and assists families that need financial help with tuition so they can choose Catholic schools for their children. This landmark legislation in Iowa was instrumental in allowing parents to choose a school that reflects the convictions of their families. Thanks to the CTO, families can choose top-notch schools with high academic achievement while having their children in a faith-filled educational environment.
“The Diocese of Des Moines and I personally support strong public schools,” wrote Bishop Richard Pates in his monthly column in The Catholic Mirror newspaper. “At the same time, we advocate parental choice in education. Also, in the present environment, we do not want our Catholic schools to become preserves for the elite or wealthy. They should be realistically accessible to all.”
The four bishops signing the statement are: Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels, Davenport Bishop Martin Amos, Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless and Bishop Pates.
“The state should respect and support the right of parents to choose the most appropriate education for their children and, as far as possible, make such choosing fair and unimpeded,” the bishops said. “Education Savings Accounts will help give parents the freedom to make a real choice in education.