By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) that would allow parents to use public funds to help pay for some non-public school education options will be discussed at a meeting in Davenport next month.
The meeting is open to anyone interested in learning more about ESAs and will be held Jan. 7 from 7- 8 p.m. in the Assumption High School auditorium in Davenport.
ESAs would allow parents opting not to enroll their child in a public school district or charter school to receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with multiple uses (with restrictions). Those funds could cover private school tuition and fees, private instruction, tutoring or training, and higher education expenses at an Iowa college or university.
“We believe it is time to make sure parents of K-12th-grade students have a maximum number of options during this critical time in their child’s educational development,” said Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education and Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education.
“All Iowans agree that a quality education is vitally important and Iowa Advo-cates for Choice in Education believes parents are best suited to choose the most effective educational method for their children,” she said.
Key components of ESAs:
• An Education Savings Grant (ESG) would be deposited to each pupil’s Education Savings Account (ESA) equal to 100 percent of the average per-pupil state aid.
• Parents would apply through the Department of Education. The Department of Management would administer the program.
• Qualified expenses would be identified and would include tuition, fees, curriculum materials and other related expenses.
• ESAs may be opened for those in nonpublic schools or those who are homeschooled.
• Fraud protection would be built in via insurance/ surety bonds, audits, vendor approval, debit card administration or other options much like many existing state programs with debit or payment cards.
Wilger and Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said they hope to have an ESA bill introduced in the next legislative session. “We know it may take some time to get an ESA bill passed,” Wilger said.
Chapman said, “If the bill were to pass as drafted, it would help level the playing field for parents who don’t have enough money to make changes in their child’s current education setting or are struggling to keep their children in a Catholic school. I think the meeting will be a great opportunity for parents and supporters of Catholic schools to learn more specifics about Education Savings Accounts and the political outlook in the legislature.”
Julie Delaney, principal of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Davenport, said, “ESAs have the potential to make a Catholic education affordable for every family in the state of Iowa and eliminate the cost barrier. It is important for parents and interested stakeholders to learn as much as possible about ESAs so they can promote the program at a grass roots level with legislators.”
Speakers at the Jan. 7 meeting will be Wilger, Chapman and Eric Goranson from Iowa Association of Christian Schools.
The three will address ESAs, tax credits available to nonpublic school parents and supporters, transportation for nonpublic schools, textbook/technology funding for nonpublic school and regulations on nonpublic schools.