Education Savings Accounts for Iowa

recent article in the Des Moines Register tells the story of a family that escaped the civil war of South Sudan before finding a home in Iowa and enrolling their children in Holy Family Catholic School in Des Moines. The family receives a scholarship thanks to the state’s School Tuition Organization (STO) tax credit program. The Anaikur family is grateful to have Holy Family School as their partner as they face the many challenges of settling a young family in a new country. The school reflects their aspirations for their children and they appreciate the relationship they have built with the welcoming Holy Family community.

According to Akar Anaikur, the mother of six, their family’s journey to Holy Family School was possible because of the innovative program that removed obstacles in their path. Access to financial support helped ease the burden of the expense of private programs, programs that even with strong financial management face many challenges as they compete with their publicly-funded partners.

The family’s experience as members of the Holy Family School community is not unique, and illustrates the need to expand the opportunity to more parents through programs such as STOs and proposals for Education Savings Accounts. The circumstances that bring families to schools like Holy Family through financial assistance may not be as dramatic, but the benefit for their students and families is just as substantial.

Parents look to the model of Catholic education for the consistent mission of teachingcommunity, and respecting the needs of students and families. They appreciate the academic and social experience their children gain every day, informed by Catholic teaching and directed by a commitment to realizing the mission of Catholic education. The personal benefit for individual families is extended to a public benefit for neighborhoods, towns and cities as students and graduates make their contribution to the common good.

Religious diversity strengthens religious freedom

Sixty-five students, two years, fifteen faith communities, one freedom. This may be one way to summarize the numbers behind an eye-opening experience for dozens of Drake University students who set out to understand various religious traditions found in Iowa.

Their project turned into a book titled, “A Spectrum of Faith: Religions of the World in America’s Heartland,” which students hope will help people gain a greater appreciation and understanding for what motivates others to live and worship as they do.

A few of the students associated with this project, along with their professor, Dr. Timothy Knepper, will share some of their experiences and impressions as part of the fourth annual Iowa Religious Freedom Day Celebration in the Capitol Rotunda on Thursday, April 13, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. A short program will feature the students during the noon hour. The public is invited to attend a non-partisan event to learn from the students and other speakers about the value of religious diversity and religious freedom.

Bishop Richard E. Pates of the Des Moines Diocese will open the short program at noon after Dowling Catholic High School students sing the national anthem. At the 2016 celebration, Bishop Pates stressed the concept that “the cornerstone of freedom is religious liberty, for it speaks to the freedom that should be inherent in each person and guarantees the expression of that which is at the heart of individual conscience and conviction.”

At a time when the term religious freedom itself is either misused or maligned, event organizers hope the public discussion will promote dialogue, respect, and cooperation when it comes to ensuring space for faith in a pluralistic and civil society.

For more information about the April 13th event, visit www.iowareligiousfreedomday.org.