By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are a contributor to increased enrollment in Catholic schools in the Diocese of Davenport this school year, said Lynne Devaney, superintendent of Catholic schools.
In 2023, Iowa legislators passed the Students First Act to promote school choice by providing funds for eligible students living in Iowa to attend accredited private schools. Enrollment in diocesan schools this academic year increased by 286 students in grades K-12. While ESAs were a factor, other reasons for growth included family moves and transfers into the diocese.
Those eligible to apply for ESAs in the current 2023-24 academic year were families of kindergartners, families of students who attended public schools but wanted to attend an accredited private school, and families with a household income at or below 300% of the 2023 Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Eligible for the next academic year (2024-25) are incoming kindergartners, families who choose to transfer from public schools and families with a household income at or below 400% of the 2024 Federal Poverty Guidelines. For the 2025-26 school year, all K-12 Iowa students are eligible regardless of income, according to Iowa’s Students First Education website.
Schools with increases in enrollment of 30 or more this year include Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf, up 37 students; Regina Junior/ Senior High School in Iowa City, up 36 students; and Regina Elementary in Iowa City, up 35 students.
All Saints Catholic School in Davenport has experienced an increase of 52 students, Principal Mindy Altman said, due in large part to ESAs. “I know that some families had their students come to preschool at All Saints, but then kindergarten tuition was not a possibility, so they went to public schools. Some of these families were able to bring their students back to All Saints because of ESAs,” she said.
In recent years, some students enrolled in All Saints because of the ability to take eighth-grade math at nearby Assumption High School in Davenport, she noted. “All Saints prides itself in our use of various forms of data to ensure that kids are being pushed to the appropriate rigor levels.”
Several families from Illinois have enrolled students at All Saints, Altman said. They do not qualify for ESAs but she thinks the school’s reputation attracted them. The school caps classroom size to “be mindful of student ratios and space,” she noted. The preschool cap is 20 students and the K-8 cap, 25. “But we have made accommodations to fit a few more in a couple of our grade levels.”
“Currently, we have a real need for more classrooms for our teachers and students. We have music, band and religion all taught off a cart — which makes it very difficult at times,” she said. All Saints hopes to offer foreign language and a computer/technology/STEM class for students next year. These electives are important for students, especially at the upper elementary and middle school, to prepare them for the next level of learning, she said.
“We have to provide students with the knowledge and skills to be successful at high school and then college/technical/trade school. If students do not know how to speak multiple languages or operate different programs on the computer effectively, they are starting off behind their peers at other schools. STEM is a huge initiative in the state of Iowa.” Access to coding and engineering learning opportunities is also important, but “we also need the space and classrooms to provide the opportunities.”
Faith-based education is also important to families. “God’s grace has given parents the right to choose what’s best for their students when it comes to where they get their education,” Altman said. “Many families are seeing the real moral depression our current society is in and the need for people to become more Christ-like in our thoughts, words and actions.” She senses that All Saints’ parents and students are seeing within themselves “a renewed faith and commitment to God this year.”
“I believe parents see and know children need a strong foundation in God and his word to navigate this world we live in successfully. Allowing parents to choose to send their children to a faith-based school and not have to worry about tuition fees creating financial hardships for their families, the door to building and strengthening that foundation in God has been renewed,” Altman said. “We have filled our hallways and will continue to fill our hallways with unique, diverse, intelligent kiddos who bring a joy to school that just fills your soul.”