July 28, 2014

Iowa’s Catholic bishops press for school vouchers

The state’s four Catholic bishops are asking lawmakers to consider a plan that would give every Iowa parent an “education grant” for their child’s schooling. Davenport Bishop Martin Amos says it would let parents direct the state’s “per pupil” spending to where their kid’s are going to class, whether it be a public or a private school — or their own home.

“My take on it is these are all our kids,” Amos says. “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.”

Critics say education “vouchers” undermine public education and violate the separation of church and state by directing state tax dollars to religious institutions. Iowa Catholic Conference executive director Tom Chapman acknowledges the idea is controversial.

“It’s probably not a this-year thing,” Chapman says, “…but we want to say, ‘This is the direction we’d like to go,’ to give parents a real choice.”

The state’s four Catholic bishops are meeting with legislators today, bringing up issues of importance to the Catholic Church. Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless is urging lawmakers to pass a law dealing with “tele-medicine” — to forbid doctors from prescribing the abortion pill through a video consultation.

“The Catholic Church, of course, is so strongly pro-life that anything we can do to limit the number of abortions, but especially these where it’s so degrading to the human being,” Nickless says, “to go in and take a couple of pills and then have an abortion and if something happens, there is no one to help you, the health of the mother.”

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland began offering “tele-med” abortions in 2008. The bishops are focusing on another health care issue, expanding the number of Iowans who qualify for government-paid Medicaid health care coverage. Bishop Richard Pates of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese says his church believes health care is a human right.

“It just seems, I think, as you look at it that perhaps more people could be served through Medicaid and it appears that the federal government is willing to pick up the tab,” Pates says.

Republican Governor Terry Branstad, a Catholic, has so far refused to make such a move, arguing the federal government can’t afford to pay 100 percent of the costs in the future.

Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus, the state’s top-ranking Catholic official, is at the statehouse today, too. Hanus is praising the Iowa Department of Transportation’s decision to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants under the age of 30 who were brought into the country by their parents when they were kids. Hanus also supports legislation that would allow those kids to pay in-state college tuition rates.

“It helps the workforce. We need young, talented workers in this state,” Hanus says.

Iowa’s Catholic bishops make a yearly visit to the statehouse to talk with legislators. Hanus was injured in a car accident near Dows as he made his way from Dubuque to Des Moines last year. The archbishop says he was a “little leery” of making the same trip this year, but he arrived safe and sound.