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.

Ombudsman position can be another step in supporting options for Iowa students

Iowa public and non-public schools, along with Iowa parents, are partners in offering an education system for all of our state’s children.

President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, into law last year, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. ESSA recognizes the need for representation of non-public school interests at the state level to insure their access to the share of federal program funding to which their students are entitled.

Non-public school enrollment numbers are used in the calculation of federal funding made available to the state, which means it is a matter of fairness that nonpublic school students receive their percentage share in a timely manner. This has not always been the case.

In the spirit of addressing the issue, the ESSA directs the creation of a public ombudsman position at the state level to consult, monitor and mediate to insure non-public school students receive equitable treatment under the terms of the new law.

One of the most important features of the new proposal is recognizing financial reality. Public and non-public schools share many of the same costs and regulations in infrastructure, overhead and the provision of services. As those costs have escalated dramatically over time, non-public school students do not have the same access to the tax dollars directed to public school students, placing them at a serious financial disadvantage.

Experience shows that students, families and communities thrive when the best education options are available to Iowa parents. The ombudsman position can be another step in supporting options for Iowa students.

No Child Left Behind

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA, was passed in 1965 as the education component of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” It was designed to address the achievement gap between children from low-income families and their higher-income peers and was the most expansive federal education bill ever passed. The bill created a special source of funding, Title I, to deliver targeted categorical—as opposed to general-federal aid to programs specifically designed to help disadvantaged children. ESEA advanced the principle that students in need, regardless of whether they attend a public or private school, are entitled to an equitable share of services and benefits.

The ESEA preceded the official establishment of the Department of Education under President Carter in 1980 and has expanded dramatically through regular reauthorizations in the 50 years since its creation. President Bush initiated a bi-partisan effort in 2000 to update the ESEA, creating the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB. The NCLB expired and was due for reauthorization in 2007 but Congress has been unable to agree on terms and has chosen to default to annual funding but not reauthorization.

Currently, the stalemate remains in place. In February, a House committee passed the HR5, the “Student Success Act,” which would amend NCLB. The bill would spend $23 billion annually, roughly what is currently spent under NCLB. Due to internal debates among Republicans over the interpretation of certain provisions of the bill and a veto threat from President Obama, the bill failed to reach the floor for debate. The Senate continues a bi-partisan effort to address differences and create a proposal that may improve the chances reauthorization may eventually be successful.

The USCCB supports the efforts of legislators to address the concerns of Catholic educators in the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB. In addition to adequate religious liberty protections, a top concern is insuring nonpublic school students receive the equitable share of program services and benefits to which they are entitled and Congress has traditionally intended. Over the years the principle has been eroded by some public school districts that choose to retain funds generated by private school students without meaningful consultation with those private schools. The USCCB believes HR5 addresses those concerns but passage of a final reauthorization is required to insure they are resolved.

The U.S. House passed on July 8, 2015, a reauthorization of ESEA. HR 5, the “Student Success Act,” contains provisions which support nonpublic school students getting their fair share of federal education dollars. The Student Success Act, HR 5. It passed the House yesterday 218-213. At press time the Senate is working on its own version of the bill.

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

Why do we work to protect Catholic education?

We believe parents have the primary role in the education of their children and that access to Catholic education is primary to our mission as Catholics. Catholic education is a public service and a contributor to the common good by creating a model of “schools for the human person.”

Catholic education models faith in action and has the unique capacity to address many of the obstacles facing poor and minority families.  Our nation’s history records the achievement of Catholic schools that moved thousands of children from poor immigrant families into the middle class and beyond, often in one generation.

Today, parents in underserved communities continue to share those aspirations and need assistance educating their children.  These parents want a choice because they know the consequences of under-performing schools better than anyone else and appreciate Catholic schools for the respect they show to them, their families and their students.  Overwhelmingly, they cite the learning environment that is a hallmark of our education model as a primary reason they chose our schools for their child.  The components of diversity, consistent achievement gains across income levels and ethnicity, student engagement and teacher commitment continue to serve as well today as in the past.

As Catholics and as parents, we believe our responsibility for our children’s education and for insuring the vitality of the schools that support that mission is in part how we meet our obligations to our faith, our children, our communities and the future.

Update from Midwest Catholic Education Advocates Conference

Lucas Swanepoel, associate director for governmental relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Katherine Knight, associate director of public policy in the Secretariat of Education at the USCCB.        Photo: Reed Flood, The Catholic Mirror

Thanks to the presenters and attendees of the eighth annual Midwest Catholic Education Advocates Conference. Public policy items related to Catholic schools were discussed, including parental choice in education, early childhood efforts and federal Title funding.  The conference was hosted by the Iowa Catholic Conference July 9-11, 2014.

Midwest Catholic Education Advocates conference starts today

Catholic Conference staff and others interested in education are traveling to Iowa today for the Midwest Catholic Education Advocates Conference. We’re looking forward to hearing from representatives of the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, the United States Conference of Catholic BishopsThe Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the Institute for Justice and the American Federation for Children. Our goal is to encourage states to go further in supporting student-based funding for education.