By Celine Klosterman
More families of students attending Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport will receive financial aid from school tuition organizations (STOs) beginning in the 2015-16 academic year.
Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill June 11 raising the cap on Iowa tax credits for donations to STOs to $12 million beginning Jan. 1, 2014. In 2012 and 2013, the statewide cap was $8.75 million.
The increase was approved 49-0 by the Iowa Senate and 97-0 by the House in May.
Individual and corporate donors receive a 65 percent tax credit on their gifts to STOs, which give grants to students to attend accredited, nonpublic schools. Eligible families earn income up to three times the federal poverty level.
Two STOs exist in the diocese: the STO of Southeast Iowa, which covers diocesan schools outside Scott County, and the Mississippi Valley STO, which serves Catholic schools in Scott County.
The Iowa Department of Revenue will determine how much more in tax credits will be available for each organization. But Steve Roling, executive director of the STO of Southeast Iowa, estimated that in 2014 the organization will be able to accept donations totaling $1,175,000, which will be distributed to families in 2015. This year, the STO can accept $857,108 in gifts.
Linda Duffy, legislative volunteer for Scott County Catholic schools, said that if enrollment trends remain steady, the MVSTO will be able to raise slightly more than $1 million in 2014. This year, the STO’s cap is $762,186.
Ninety percent of those donations must go to students.
Roling said the rise in tax credits is welcome news. “The fact that we got such a large increase speaks to the overall value of the STO program in providing school choice for Iowa students. The financial need in our STO service area has increased every year since the program began.”
Since the tax credit was first offered in 2006, the number of private schools open in Iowa has remained steady at 182, according to a 2012 Iowa Department of Revenue report. “Between 2001 and 2006, on average, over two percent of private schools were closing each year,” the report continues.
Bipartisan support for the program has increased over the years, said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC). “I think that is because our network of supporters has grown, and they do a great job of contacting their legislators, both at home and when the legislators are at the capitol. That makes a huge difference.”
Groups including the ICC, Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education and the Iowa Association of Christian Schools lobby for legislative support of STOs. Supporters argue that when students enroll in private schools, the state is spared the cost of educating those youths in public schools.
STO grants represent a large amount of money that a Catholic school would otherwise have to fundraise, noted Lee Morrison, diocesan superintendent. “They help us meet the Church’s mission of making Catholic education accessible for all.”
For the 2013-14 academic year, 583 students were awarded a total of $825,280 in grants from the STO of Southeast Iowa. The STO received applications representing 773 students, 593 of whom were qualified to receive a grant.
The Scott County Catholic schools’ Family Tuition Plan, which includes STO aid, is still in the application period for the coming school year, Duffy said. Donors contributed $744,470.77 to the MVSTO in 2012 to benefit students from 2013-14.
To donate to the STO of Southeast Iowa, visit http://stoseiowa.org or call Roling at (563) 391-1845. Donors can restrict their gift to one or more of the schools the STO serves. Those institutions include Holy Trinity Catholic Schools in Lee County, Keokuk Catholic School, Notre Dame Schools in Burlington, Prince of Peace Catholic School in Clinton, Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City, Seton Catholic School in Ottumwa, St. James Elementary in Washington, St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt and Saints Mary and Mathias Catholic School in Muscatine.
To donate to the MVSTO, visit www.mvsto.org or call (563) 326-5313 ext. 228. The organization includes Assumption High School, All Saints, John F. Kennedy and St. Paul the Apostle schools in Davenport and Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf.
Donations for the 2013 tax year are due Dec. 31.