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ESAs discussed at meeting

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Educators from the state of Iowa gathered at the Sioux City Convention Center Feb. 7 to discuss new initiatives with school choice in Iowa.

The event was hosted by the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Sioux City and featured Dan Ryan, superintendent of schools for the diocese, and Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference.

High on the school choice program list are Education Savings Accounts, which would serve as tuition assistance for parents who may discover their income is just above tuition-assistance guidelines.

According to Ryan, 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.”

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

“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.”

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.”

Here are some frequently asked questions concerning ESAs.

Q. What does an Education Savings Account so?
A. Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) allow parents who do not enroll their child in a public school or charter school to receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized savings accounts with specific multiple uses. An Education Savings Grant (ESG) will be deposited to each pupil’s Education Savings Account (ESA) equal to 100 percent of the average per-pupil state aid.

Q. What will an Education Savings Account cover?
A. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees; curriculum materials, private instruction, tutoring, and education expenses at a public or private Iowa college or university.

Q. Why are they needed?
A. Parents of K-12 grade students need a maximum number of options for their child’s educational development. An Education Savings Account levels the playing field for parents who lack the resources to make changes in their child’s education or who feel stuck in underperforming schools.

Q. Will taxpayers fund ESAs?
A. Iowa tax dollars would provide the funds for the Education Savings Account. The projected cost of this program would be less than the cost of the Education Reform bills passed last year.

Q. How will the ESAs work?
A. Parents will apply for the ESA program through the Department of Education and the program will be administered by the Department of Management.

Q. How will this impact public school education?
A. A large body of research on similar programs has found that students who transfer to private schools and those who remain at the public school all achieve higher after the implementation of a school choice program. Other states, like Indiana, have not seen a rush of students leaving schools.

Q. What other states are pursuing this option?
A. Mississippi is close to becoming the second state, behind Arizona, to adopt Education Savings Accounts.

Q. What happens next in Iowa?
A. Getting an ESA passed may be a multi-year process. We are working on this for the 2014 legislative session, educating policy makers and getting an ESA bill introduced in the house.

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