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Governor signs bill to increase STOs

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad signing House File 625 -- which increases the School Tuition Organization (STO) credit cap by more than $2 million -- will make Catholic schools truly “catholic,” said the Sioux City diocesan superintendent of schools.

“This bill will take us one step closer in making sure Catholic education is available to all parents who want to enroll their students in Catholic schools,” said Dan Ryan, citing the word “catholic” as “universal.”

This bill increases the STO credit cap from $8.75 million to $12 million for tax year 2014 and beyond. Both the Iowa Senate and Iowa House passed the legislation on unanimous votes, an unprecedented occurrence, Ryan pointed out.

“It illustrates the broad support for the STOs crosses party lines,” he said.

STOs are charitable organizations that raise tuition grant funding for students who enroll in accredited nonpublic schools. The STO in the Diocese of Sioux City is the Msgr. Lafferty Tuition Foundation (MLTF).

“Just within the past few weeks, more than 2,200 families received notification they would be receiving tuition assistance from MLTF,” Ryan said. “With the newly approved increase to $3 million for tuition assistance grants, we anticipate several hundred more families will be recipients.”

In order for a student to be eligible for Lafferty funds, family income can be no more than 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

Enacted in 2006, Iowa taxpayers who choose to donate to STOs are eligible for a tax credit which is equal to 65 percent of their total contribution.

Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education, said many partners worked for this increase, including the Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education, Iowa Catholic Conference and Iowa Association of Christian Schools.

“Each group is very active at the Capitol during session, and this year they worked very hard to make sure we were able to gain enough support for this program expansion,” she said. “We also called on the grassroots support, which tipped the scales in our favor. Constituent contacts with legislators made a tremendous difference.”

The Cato Institute, a nonpartisan libertarian think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., tracks states which use a Scholarship Tax Credit (STC) program.

“The unanimous decision of the Iowa legislature to expand the state’s scholarship tax credit (STC) program once again demonstrates that school choice programs grow even more popular once implemented,” the institute reported.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island have had STC programs. Louisiana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Virginia have recently launched or are ready to launch programs.



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