By RENEE WEBB
Almost $3 million was recently distributed to schools in the Diocese of Sioux City through two scholarship programs that directly assist families with tuition for Catholic schools.
Nearly $2.8 million was awarded by the diocese’s student tuition organization (STO), Msgr. Lafferty Tuition Foundation, and another $190,000 was awarded through the Bishop’s Education Fund.
According to Marilyn Wellman, diocesan accounting analyst, between those two scholarship programs, 2,575 students received tuition awards for the 2018-2019 school year. The disbursement checks were sent to the Catholic schools and then were applied to the parents’ tuition receivable accounts.
“Through Msgr. Lafferty Tuition Foundation alone we have awarded out close to $25 million,” she said, noting that between the two scholarship programs more than $25.8 million has been awarded. “It has helped to keep our schools vital.”
Patty Lansink, superintendent of Catholic Schools, said the scholarship programs are invaluable to the Catholic schools and families.
“With our scholarship programs, families who may think a Catholic education is not affordable realize it is within their reach, which boosts enrollment for our schools,” she said.
The Msgr. Lafferty program was established thanks to the 2006 Educational Opportunities Act, which allowed nonpublic schools to establish STOs that offer substantial tax incentives for contributions. Persons who have an Iowa tax liability may receive a 65 percent tax credit on contributions made to the fund and, then, additional federal deductions usually apply.
“I can’t thank our donors enough for their generosity,” Lansink said. “Their support helps bring the faith and an awesome education to more families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make this choice for their children.”
With this act that allowed for STOs came stipulations/requirements for students who qualify to receive these funds: since its inception household income could not exceed three times the poverty level; however, Wellman said legislation has changed to allow STOs to go up to four times the poverty level.
“But it’s to the STO’s discretion,” she clarified. “We are going to stair-step it. The MLTF board just met and decided to go to 3.5 times the poverty level for the next school year.”
A change in eligibility for the MLTF prompted the diocesan board to change eligibility for the Bishop’s Education Fund that had been set at three to four times the poverty level since the fund’s inception. The board voted to change eligibility for this scholarship program to 3.5 to 5 times poverty level for the coming year.
“The goal of the Bishop’s Education Fund was to help middle income families who may not qualify for a scholarship through MLTF, but still need some help to make it affordable for their family,” said Lansink. “It has been a valuable bridge to help us meet the needs of more families.”
Wellman anticipates that even more middle-class families will qualify to receive tuition scholarships next year.
With the 1,954 students who received MLTF awards, she noted the minimum award was $500 and the maximum award was 75 percent of the student’s tuition. The minimum award for the Bishop’s Education Fund was $250 and the maximum was $500.
Despite scholarship programs, the superintendent is aware that Catholic education can still be a sacrifice for parents.
“Catholic education is a wonderful gift they are giving their children, one their children may not realize until much later in life,” said Lansink, who urges family recipients of MLTF awards to thank their legislators for support of STOs.
An on-line application for these scholarship programs will be available on the diocesan website – www.scdiocese.org – on Feb. 1, with a deadline of April 1.