By A. B. HILL
Imagine a program that helps Pennsylvania students score significantly above the national average on standardized tests. Research shows that because there is a greater emphasis on homework and study, the participants in this program develop much more effective writing skills and the rate at which they attend college exceeds 95 percent. This same program also boasts an excellent success rate in educating minority students.
High standards, strong motivation, effective discipline and an atmosphere of caring in this challenging academic program foster excellence and a high quality of student performance.
That’s not all. This outstanding program aims to develop each student as a “whole person” – academically, of course, but also spiritually, physically and emotionally. Each and every aspect of the art, music, athletics, community service and academic curriculum is permeated by Gospel values.
But wait, it gets better. This successful program manages to educate students by doing more for much less. The cost to educate a student in pre-school and grade school is about $3,000 per year and around $7,000 per year for high school students. (Public schools may spend as much as $17,975 per student each year.)
What is this excellent program? If you have not guessed already, it is Pennsylvania’s Catholic schools.
The parents of 160,874 students in Pennsylvania chose a Catholic education for their children this year. Many have the opportunity because of scholarships provided by generous participants in the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. The EITC provides businesses with a tax credit for the donations they make to scholarship organizations. The scholarships give parents the economic means to choose the learning environment they believe best meets the needs of their children, regardless of their family income.
Catholic schools are providing an excellent education for pennies on the dollar compared to public schools; but as our Commonwealth faces tough economic times, public programs that support non-public school students are under siege. There are several public policy developments of great concern regarding the unfair treatment of Catholic schoolchildren in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
For many years, there was a clear understanding that the annual state budget appropriations for nonpublic school textbooks, instructional materials and auxiliary services would increase at the same percentage rate as the state’s public school basic education subsidy. That did not occur in 2006-2007 and again this year.
Both times, the public school subsidy was increased by a substantially greater amount than the nonpublic school student appropriations.
Additionally, right now, the Governor’s Office and the Pennsylvania Department of Education are planning to cut the amounts of the 2008-2009 nonpublic school student appropriations that are actually expended, while not making equivalent cuts in the amounts expended for the public school subsidy, thus exacerbating the inequity and further disadvantaging nonpublic school children.
Similar inequities are proposed for technology and special education funding for programs that help non-public school students.
This is wrong and unfair. It’s not too late to ask your state legislators and the governor to do something about it. Log on to www.pacatholic.org to take action. Catholic schools are a cost-effective investment in our children’s future.
A.B. Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs arm of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania.