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ESAs provide needed tuition support

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Tuition assistance has always been in place for parents whose income could never support Catholic school tuition.

However, some families – just above tuition-assistance guidelines – could find Catholic education just out of reach, due to their income.

That discrepancy could change with the advent of Education Savings Accounts, an account created as an incentive to help parents and students save for education expenses.

According to Dan Ryan, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Sioux City, this new approach to addressing the needs of middle-income families could dramatically improve the access of K-12 school services.

“This model is based on the belief of school choice advocates that parents should be free to choose the best learning environments for their children,” he said. “It truly emphasizes that Catholic schools are an affordable, educational option of choice.”

The ESA allows parents to apply their tax dollars earmarked for their child to the educational services of their choice.

Ryan pointed out the strength in this approach in providing parents with more money for a child’s education.

“It allows parents to better distribute their dedicated public education funds,” he said.

Another added benefit is leveling the playing field for families, no matter what the income, Ryan noted.

“This is a real boom for middle-class families who can use this to help with tuition,” he said. “It also gives them choices when it comes to where to send their children to school.”

A 2012 survey indicates Iowans support education savings accounts.

The Iowa K-12 & School Choice Survey, released Oct. 8, 2012, and conducted by Braun Research, Inc., indicates 57 percent of Iowans are likely to support universal eligibility for ESAs.

The survey, sponsored by Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, conducted 605 phone interviews with registered voters in the state of Iowa from June 24 to July 2, 2012.

“The results of the survey send a clear message to policymakers that Iowans want greater choice in where they send their kids to school,” said Trish Wilger, executive director for the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education.

ESAs, not only allow parents to use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, it can also be used for online education programs, certified private tutors, public and private schools and online education programs; plus, remaining funds may be used for community colleges and even universities in Iowa, Ryan pointed out.

“That really will empower families to search out the best educational options for their children, particularly in some cases, where programs and services may only have been available to the wealthy,” he said.

Ryan, with administrators and educators, has been working with the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education on Education Savings Accounts for some time.

“This program would allow parents to direct their education tax dollars to a private school or other approved educational services,” he explained. “We have been promoting this idea with our administrators and boards for some time.”

Although the Friedman Foundation results are favorable on ESAs, other efforts are also taking place to increase public awareness on this issue, Ryan added.

“Advocacy meetings are being held around the state,” he said. “We are also working to inform business leaders about ESAs.”

The survey results reflect positively on Iowa’s public and private schools, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference. But it also shows that parents strongly support ESAs and want options in where they decide to send their kids to school, he said.

Chapman plans on sharing that information with legislators this upcoming legislative session.

“We’ll continue to work on education savings accounts,” Chapman said. “We’re hoping to start a bill in the House this year.”

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