Friedman Legacy gathering celebrates state’s STOs, concept of school choice
By RENEE WEBB, Globe editor
Dan Ryan, superintendent of Catholic schools, said the gathering was held to mark Milton Friedman’s birthday. He acknowledged that some may wonder why they would be talking about the economist who was known for his work in promoting free markets when they had obviously gathered for educational reasons.
“He was such a visionary that many of his ideas permeate everything in society. I think we have an example of his open market and free market ideas in the Iowa Educational Opportunities Act that was passed several years ago,” Ryan noted.
Through that act that was passed in 2006, the state allowed the establishment of student tuition organizations (STOs). The Diocese of Sioux City’s STO, which is called the Msgr. Lafferty Tuition Foundation, has awarded about $9.2 million in tuition assistance to thousands of student recipients throughout the diocese.
Governor Terry Branstad was on hand at the gathering to speak about his support of Catholic schools and the student tuition organizations.
The governor has had a long history of supporting legislation that benefits Catholic schools such as transportation and textbook legislation of the 1970s. It was during those days that he knew the late Msgr. Lafferty.
“Then, when I was governor, we started a small tuition tax deduction for families who send their kids to Catholic schools but I have to say this student tuition organization is better than any of those things,” said Gov. Branstad. “I wasn’t governor when it passed, but I am proud to say that my wife and I have contributed every year.”
Stressing that it was important to lead by example, he said he not only supported the STO program but also contributes to it. Given that his address is in Boone, his contributions have benefited the students of Sacred Heart School.
The governor spoke of the tremendous tax benefits of giving to STOs, with an Iowa tax credit of 65 percent plus possible additional federal deductions.
He called Friedman a visionary and a believer in freedom.
Branstad said he personally is a strong believer in freedom and school choice.
“Having competition and having great private schools and Catholic schools compete with public schools makes them all better,” he said.
The governor, who is a convert to Catholicism, pointed out that he sent his own children to Catholic schools because they have the highest achievement in education.
“Having things like the STOs make it more affordable for Iowa families,” he said.
Trish Wilger, executive director of Iowa ACE (Alliance for Choice in Education), said July 31 of this year would have been the 100th birthday of Milton Friedman. Friedman died in 2006 at age 94. In the 1950s, she said, Friedman wrote his seminal piece on school choice ideas, believing that market forces could be used to improve education as they are in commerce and areas of business.
“In other words, he felt that if private and parochial schools are adequately supported and financial barriers to parents are removed, then schools could compete on a level playing field and the best schools would draw in consumers or in this case students,” said Wilger, who explained that Dr. Friedman believed that “all schools would improve as a result of this competition.”
The event was sponsored by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice based out of Indianapolis. The foundation had given substantial support to Iowa years ago as it worked to establish its STO program.
As a result of the financial assistance available through the STOs, Ryan said it has allowed parents and students to have a choice in their education.
“It has given them an opportunity to attend schools with high achievement, high graduate rates and a high level of college attendance,” he said. “That’s not only a great advantage for that student and their family, that’s a great advantage for Iowa.”
Matt Greteman of Carroll, chairman of the Msgr. Lafferty Tuition Foundation Board, said he was grateful to see so many supporters of MLTF in attendance along with “everyone who works so diligently making our schools better and working to make this tuition assistance program a huge success.”
As the oldest of 10 children, Bishop Walker Nickless said his parents had sacrificed very much to put all of them in Catholic school.
“But it’s people like you, people who care about school choice and Catholic education that make all of the difference,” the bishop said.
Looking to the future, Ryan said he was hopeful that they would see continued increases in the STO tax credits that are used to fund the program and would love to investigate what other states offer by way of educational savings accounts and so forth.
Governor Branstad said he would like to see the STO tax credits increase and would like to see an improvement in tax credit given to parents who send their children to private schools.
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