Educating by grace through faith: Indiana school choice advocate visits Cedar Rapids

By Ella Schulte

Special to The Witness

CEDAR RAPIDS — “Every child, every child should have the ability to attend a school that’s the right fit for them, no matter what their zip code is, no matter what their financial circumstances are,” said John Elcesser, executive director of the Indiana Non-Public Education Association. “School choice provides that opportunity in its many different kinds of vehicles.”

Xavier Catholic High School in ­Cedar Rapids recently welcomed Elcesser. ­Dur­ing a speech at the Regis-LaSalle Auditorium on Sept. 19 from 6:30-8 p.m., he elaborated on the importance of school choice.

School administrators and community members attended the event organized by the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education (Iowa ACE). Iowa ACE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to finding ways for all families in Iowa to have access to equal admission and affordable education for their children. Elcesser is an eminent advocate, as well as the director of school choice efforts in Indiana, a state that is home to one of the most prosperous school choice programs in the United States.

He has spent time capitalizing on the importance of both the professional and personal aspects of his career. Aside from serving as a principal and school superintendent, his two internationally adopted children, Zach and Anna, have helped shape his passion into the profession it is today. 

Regardless of whether the correct fit for a student is a public or a parochial school, Iowa ACE is willing to provide personal assistance and financial aid to those from all differing backgrounds and incomes.

Iowa ACE also works in close contact with the Iowa Catholic Conference, a group committed to promoting Catholic education.

Together these organizations have two notable programs for which they are pushing. The first is the promotion of edu­cation savings accounts, where the state designates money to families who choose nonpublic education. This funding then goes towards tuition or resources such as textbooks. The second push is for school tuition organizations (STOs), where donors make a contribution and receive a tax credit before the money goes into a pool used to supply financial aid to families who choose to attend nonpublic schools.

“Xavier is currently made up of around 38 percent of high school age Catholic students in the Cedar Rapids area, while the other approximately 62 percent of Catholic teenagers go to public schools,” Xavier President Tom Keating said. “If we had the opportunity to have parents be able to afford Xavier or any nearby Catholic school, the number of students who might be able to attend, and whom we might be able to better serve, would grow dramatically.”

Xavier’s mission, to develop the total person in a Catholic environment, benefits greatly because of these organizations.

In addition, this purpose extends to the lyrics of the familiar church hymn “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen, which states, “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions. All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”

Schulte is a junior at Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids. She is a writer for “Xpress,” the school’s newspaper.  

Photo: John Elcesser, a school choice advocate from Indiana, speaks at Xavier Catholic High School in Cedar Rapids Sept. 19. (Contributed photo)

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