By Celine Klosterman
On April 7, five eighth-graders from St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport were to take part in a day of advocacy in Des Moines for nonpublic schools.
The youths were among more than 600 students expected to participate in Education Celebration Day, an annual opportunity for parents, students and educators to talk with legislators about the benefits of nonpublic education in Iowa.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to see and realize the number of nonpublic schools in the state, meet legislators and see the capitol,” said Dan Ryan, principal of St. Paul the Apostle. “But we also want representatives to see us and realize the importance Catholic schools have in the state of Iowa.”
When put together, Catholic schools make up one of Iowa’s largest employers, he said. And according to the Iowa Department of Education’s figures, if every child currently in nonpublic schools transferred to his or her local public school, the annual cost to the state would be $191,675,306.
Trish Wilger, director of the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, which is sponsoring Education Celebration Day, said her organization also hopes to highlight School Tuition Organizations. STOs offer qualifying students grants to attend accredited nonpublic schools. Two STOs exist in the Davenport Diocese.
Wilger said she’d like to see Iowa raise the 2008 $7.5 million cap on tax credits for STO donations, but doesn’t expect the state to do so this year because of proposed budget cuts. Still, “I wouldn’t anticipate they’d cut STO tax credits.” The credits make up a comparatively small state expense, she said.
Ryan also said he wanted St. Paul’s to show support for the state’s Educational Opportuni-ties Act of 2006, which let taxpayers earn a 65 percent tax credit for their STO donations. Before that act and the Embracing Our Future tuition-aid campaign that began in Scott County in 2004, St. Paul’s gave about $15,000 annually in tuition aid to students in kindergarten through 12th grade to attend the parish school, he said. Now, the amount has risen to $100,000 for kindergarteners to eighth-graders.
After tuition aid from STO and Embracing Our Future donations became available, enrollment in Scott County Catholic schools started rising after declining or holding steady for years.
It’s important for legislators to hear stories of students who’ve been able to attend Catholic schools because of tuition assistance, Ryan said.
At the capitol, St. Paul the Apostle students planned to share a display on educational projects they’ve done. Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, and Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, were slated to speak.
For more information, visit www.iowaace.org or call Wilger at (515) 323-0687.