Education Savings Accounts – 2015

January 2015

Parents are the ones primarily responsible for the education of their children. We believe Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are a tool that would empower parents across our state to choose the best and most suitable education for their children, regardless of economic standing. ESAs would allow parents who choose not to enroll their children in a public school to receive a deposit of public funds into a savings account set up by the state. This money could be used by parents for K-12 tuition and fees.

The Iowa Catholic Conference, with the support of thousands of Iowans, asks the legislature to enact an ESA program during the 2015 legislative session. 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.

Iowans agree that access to a quality education is important. But there are some who ask: why should taxpayers pay for education outside of a public school?

In fact, state law already makes many provisions for parental choice. Current examples include state-funded preschool, the School Tuition Organization program, the Tuition Tax Credit and “open enrollment” for some public school parents. We also have direct ways of funding private education, such as the Iowa Tuition Grant Program for students attending private colleges. Moreover, private school students receive the benefit of public support for textbooks, transportation and meal programs. These efforts support parents and students and help level the playing field. ESAs are another effort of the same kind.

Nonpublic schools are a long-standing stabilizing force in communities and make a distinctive contribution to the common good. We believe nonpublic schools are among the best anti-poverty programs, offering a first-rate education, enduring moral truth, and discipline that speak to the development of the whole person. Research has shown that robust parental choice in education results in improved academic outcomes both for public schools in general and for student-participants. (A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2013)

ESAs are also a relatively inexpensive and efficient means to support parents and children. We estimate that for no more than an additional four percent of the current government spending on K-12 education, the state could offer comprehensive choice in education for all nonpublic school students. This would empower parents (no less than schools) to make decisions about their children’s education more freely with more certainty as they plan for the future.

From mutual solidarity and our shared commitment to the common good, all Iowans should be committed to providing real choice in education, not only for those with the means to choose, but for all. For example, an Iowa family wrote the following:

We have chosen Catholic education for our kids and are extremely happy. Our kids are thriving in the system not only through their faith life, but with the rigorous academic curriculum that our school provides. We will soon have three kids in high school which adds much financial stress to our family. We do everything we can to decrease the tuition. We have sacrificed so much so our kids can be part of such an amazing system. Our kids have worked many hours through the work-study program to decrease some of the tuition costs and we are active in fundraising through our parish. But that is just not enough. That is why we are such strong supporters of the ESA. The ESA would make such a difference and alleviate so much financial burden for our family.”

Nearly 20 years ago, we warned that parents of school age children were finding it more and more difficult to pay school tuition and still make ends meet. Even more so, this is the case today. 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. Education Savings Accounts will help give parents the freedom to make a real choice in education.


Most Rev. Michael Jackels, Archbishop of Dubuque

Most Rev. R. Walker Nickless, Bishop of Sioux City

Most Rev. Martin Amos, Bishop of Davenport

Most Rev. Richard Pates, Bishop of Des Moines

ICC opposes “doctor-prescribed suicide” bills

Bills have been introduced in the Iowa House  (House File 65) and Iowa Senate (Senate File 2051) to legalize doctor-prescribed suicide, also called “physician-assisted suicide.” The Iowa Catholic Conference opposes the bills.

The Iowa Catholic Conference opposes the legalization of doctor-prescribed suicide, also called physician-assisted suicide. Many people are understandably concerned about what they may face as they near the end of their life. People don’t want to suffer and are concerned they’ll be forced to endure life-support machines indefinitely. Many wrongly believe that life-support systems can never be removed.

From the perspective of our religious faith, the Catholic Church supports the protection of human life from conception until a natural death. The dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society and fundamental to Catholic social teaching. Each and every person is created in the image and likeness of God. The Catholic Church teaches that consciously choosing to end one’s life is wrong, and assisting with someone’s suicide cannot be condoned. We should not eliminate suffering by eliminating the one who suffers.

Aside from faith-based concerns, there are many reasons to question whether legalizing doctor-prescribed suicide (physician assisted suicide) is good health care or good public policy. Unfortunately, the intent of this legislation does not protect vulnerable people from its dangerous content.

Advocates of physician assisted suicide argue that it is an act of compassion giving relief to patients who are experiencing excruciating physical pain. But does it really address the needs of the terminally ill patient? In an editorial in the New York Times, Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., pointed out that “patients themselves say that the primary motive [for requesting assisted suicide] is not to escape physical pain but psychological distress; the main drivers are depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control.” (“Four Myths About Doctor-Assisted Suicide,” New York Times Oct. 27, 2012) Should we not offer these patients counseling and caring rather than death? In this bill, a counseling referral is not required unless the doctor believes depression is causing impaired judgment.

Will this proposal ensure a “good death” that is quick and painless? Assisted suicides can go wrong. Citing a study in the Netherlands, Ezekiel Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., has reported that “patients…vomited up their medications in 7 percent of cases; in 15 percent of cases, patients either did not die or took a very long time to die – hours, even days; in 18 percent, doctors had to intervene to administer a lethal medication themselves, converting a physician-assisted suicide into euthanasia.” (“Four Myths About Doctor-Assisted Suicide,” New York Times Oct. 27, 2012)

What would this proposal ultimately mean to those who are diagnosed with a terminal disease? Will they be pressured? Do you think it’s possible that patients – particularly the elderly – might feel pressured into choosing assisted suicide to avoid being a burden or a financial liability to loved ones? What kind of demands will ultimately be put on patients who are a financial drain on the health care system.

What will this mean for suicide rates in general? A recent report on suicide trends and risk factors for the Oregon Health Authority (where they have doctor-prescribed suicide) found the state’s overall suicide rate was 41 percent higher than the national rate. (AP, May 2, 2013)

What will doctor-prescribed suicide mean to the medical profession? We believe it brings a new dimension to the healing profession – that of enabling death. Does it lower the standard of care by only requiring a person to act in “good-faith compliance” with the provisions of the bill? “Good faith” is a loose legal standard and it’s much weaker than the negligence standard physicians are generally held to.

Can we trust health insurance companies or government-provided insurance to do the right thing, or the least-costly thing? Cost containment in health care is already a much-discussed goal. Already in Oregon, in some situations the state will call the patient and deny medical coverage the patient wants and may need, but instead offer coverage for a prescription which causes death. Once doctor-prescribed suicide becomes a “medical treatment,” it becomes the most cost-effective “treatment” available.

Why are the so-called safeguards in this bill only applied to the requests for a prescription and not to the act of suicide itself? Who else will have access to the medication while it’s in the home? There’s no way to know if a person was pressured into taking the lethal drugs. There’s no way to know if the drugs were mixed into the patient’s food without their knowledge.

Why is the only reporting about doctor-prescribed suicide self-reporting by the doctors prescribing lethal drugs? As the Oregon Health Division noted on the issue in 1999: “There are several limitations that should be kept in mind when considering these findings…. For that matter, the entire account [by prescribing physicians] could have been a cock-and-bull story. We assume, however, that physicians were their usual careful and accurate selves.” Center for Disease Prevention & Epidemiology, Oregon Health Division, CD Reports, March 16, 1999, at 2.

We are fortunate to live during a time when the advances in drug therapy and technology, particularly in palliative care, are developing rapidly and making great strides in pain management. Medical and hospice care is such today that much pain and suffering can be relieved. Medical professionals in Iowa are well-qualified to address the top concerns of those who support prescribed suicide. Because of the possibility of coercion and abuse, passage of this legislation would make life more perilous for those who are very sick and elderly.