In the Heartland With Bishop Pates: Education - A First Priority
by Bishop Pates | May 14, 2019
A public position that I have consistently taken is 100% advocacy of referenda or bond issues that are in support of public education. I do so because solid, quality education is at the core of our American democracy and economy. It is vital that we invest in that sector which contributes to community and human flourishing.
While education of all is of first consideration, I naturally want the best for the 12,000 young people of the Diocese of Des Moines who benefit from public schools.
In the same moment, I encourage the support of reputable institutions that are able to attain an equal if not higher outcome in the schooling enterprise. It is a given expectation that the state has the responsibility to provide opportunity for all its citizens to be educated. But the vehicle for the delivery of that education is not exclusively defined.
Many applaud the vision of Gov. Tom Vilsack who advanced legislation that gave birth to School Tuition Organizations (STO) in Iowa. Basically what they do is provide a tax credit of 65 percent for those who donate to a qualified STO to provide scholarships to non-public schools. The legislature, recently adjourned, approved legislation that now allows for $15 million in tax credits for qualified donors which takes effect in 2020. Translated into actual student benefits this amounts to 23 million dollars in aid.
For the 6,222 students in the Diocese of Des Moines Schools tax credits provide assistance of approximately $3,300,000.00. It is distributed to those families who are at the lower level of the income stream and who find the parochial style of education highly valuable for their children. An example of this would be Holy Family School in Des Moines which has 230 students, 221 non-Caucasian. They received an aggregate of $327,912.50 in financial aid this past year from STOs.
Holy Family School has a graduation rate of 99 percent from high school and further advanced achievement ranks very high. The school is equipping its students to be highly productive in their adult years and expanding the experience of higher education to a whole new generation.
Now that the legislature has adjourned for the year, I suggest it is opportune to lower the tone of partisan positions and reflect, in the final analysis, what are the best education opportunities for our children and families.
- The State of Iowa has the responsibility for the education of all its children. Is it not one of its foremost if not the foremost obligation?
- Those of us who are promoting assistance for non-public schools are not wanting to take money from public schools. What we do advance is the expansion of the pool of money for all of education in order that the state is able to fulfill its obligations to all of its kids.
- Aid to non-public schools has passed constitutional muster.
- Already, school choice is a reality with the movement from district to district and the enrollment of students in different schools within the same district.
- Does not healthy competition between qualifying systems stimulate progress? Is it not the American way?
- Are not parents entitled to choose an education for their children which meets all the state’s requirements yet reflects parental values and costs no more than public schools?
- Non-public schools welcome the mission to work with underprivileged, poor, and distressed children. Our investment, as data demonstrate, eventually leads to strong, independent and value-oriented lives.
- If the cost of non-public education continues to spiral upward basically driven by providing just wages for teachers, are these institutions going to become havens for the elite?
- Parents of children with special needs plead with non-publics to educate their children and become visibly upset when we are unable to oblige because of the lack of financial wherewithal.
The evolution in government assistance for all Iowa’s children is taking further shape in educational savings accounts (ESA). These are grants to families who have children in non-public settings. They eventually will rise to the amount that the state provides for public school students. The parents will then be able to utilize these funds in choosing the most appropriate setting for the education of their children.
The bottom line in all of these considerations is not the goal of taking money from public institutions. It is a question of expanding the pool of resources, in graduated measure, so that all of our children can pursue an education that benefits their deepest desires and needs while producing solid citizens committed to the American tradition.