By Anne Marie Cox
For The Catholic Messenger
Students from St. Paul the Apostle School in Davenport were expected to be among 1,000 students, parents and educators at the State Capitol on March 3 for a rally advocating legislative approval of Education Savings Accounts.
Due to icy roads, the students stayed safely in Davenport. However, Davenport Diocesan Schools Superintendent Lee Morrison made the trek to Des Moines to lobby for school choice.
Morrison stood among a sea of students from Des Moines-area schools decked in bright yellow “School Choice Now” t-shirts to draw the attention of lawmakers.
Some students don’t have a choice of where they attend school because of their family income or their zip code, Morrison said. “It’s nothing against public education,” he said of the more than 30,000 Iowa students who attend nonpublic schools. “We just feel that all students in Iowa should have an opportunity to choose where they go to school.”
The Capitol rotunda was filled with students, parents and education administrators for the noontime rally organized by the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education and Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education.
Priests, school board members and youth roamed the halls looking for their lawmakers to urge their support for ESAs. These accounts 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 private school tuition and some other education expenses including tutoring. The amount put into the savings account by the state would be the per-pupil state foundation aid — this year, about $5,600.
Keynote speaker Virginia Walden Ford, the driving force behind the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, told the crowd that “When parents have a choice, children have a chance” to succeed.
“We connected with as many legislators as possible and tried to make them see that this issue is about the best interest of parents and children, not about institutions and money,” said organizer Trish Wilger of Iowa ACE.
Later, Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said the Education Savings Account bill did not come up for a vote March 5 in the House Education Committee. The committee’s chair chose not to bring it up because of budget concerns.
Chapman noted that 3,700 people have sent messages so far about ESAs, which “will serve us well as the session continues.
“I remain very hopeful that there will be positive legislation to assist nonpublic school parents and students this session.”
(Catholic Messenger reporter Lindsay Steele contributed to this story.)