DES MOINES – Top Iowa officials of the Catholic Church are pressing state lawmakers to consider offering a state-funded “education grant” that parents could use to send their children to the public or private schools of their choice.
Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, said the proposal is for up to $4,000 in per-pupil state funding for K-12 education to be designated to parents to help finance their children’s education in a public school district, a religious-affiliated school or at their homes. The proposal was offered as an amendment to an education reform bill in the Iowa House but was withdrawn without debate before representatives passed that measure Wednesday morning.
The state’s four Catholic bishops — Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus and Bishops Martin Amos of Davenport, R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City and Richard Pates of Des Moines — made their annual sojourns to the Statehouse Wednesday to lobby lawmakers on various topics of interest and school vouchers was among the topics they were promoting at a breakfast reception.
“That’s probably a little ways out but we’re trying to raise the consciousness. It would be expensive and it’s going to take awhile. It would really be a boon for everybody. It’s a great concept,” said Amos.
“My take on it is these are all our kids,” he added. “Some are doing home schooling, some are doing public school, some are doing private school, some are doing religious-affiliated school, and there’s nothing illegal about having a fund where it goes to the parents and the parents choose where they’re going to go.”
Chapman said other states – most recently Indiana – have adopted education voucher systems without the concerns raised by critics that the approach undermines public education or violates separation of church and state tenets by routing public tax dollars to religious purposes. He noted that current per-pupil state aid in Iowa is $6,001 so public school districts still would retain a sizable share of K-12 funding.
“It’s probably not a this-year thing,” Chapman conceded. But added “this is the direction we’d like to go so parents have a real choice.”
For his part, Nickless focused on pro-life issues, specifically asking lawmakers to pass a law prohibiting abortion-related services to be delivered via telemedicine and to oppose reinstating Iowa’s death penalty.
“It’s all about respecting life from the very beginning to the very end,” Nickless said.
Hanus focused on immigration issues, supporting a state Department of Transportation’s decision to resume issuing driver’s licenses to young Iowans who were brought into the country by their parents when they were kids and a separate legislative proposal that would allow kids of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Iowa colleges.