The following is a statement released by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference:
The Catholic Bishops of Pennsylvania see school choice as a defining social justice issue of our society. Legislation currently being considered in Harrisburg could herald a new, more just era for education in Pennsylvania – an era in which we focus on the ideal educational environment for each student, not on a mandatory system in which students are assigned to a school based solely on geographic location. The current treatment of these children, particularly children from low-income families, is unjust and inequitable. Families are often prevented from accessing the educational options that would be best for them because of economic or social barriers. School choice legislation that includes vouchers and an increase to EITC reinforces that parents – not the state – are the primary educators of their children.
Parents and educators know that each pupil has a different style of learning and each family has its own educational values. School choice will allow families to pick the school that is best for their children and will allow a wider group of people to access non-public schools. Further, school choice will increase the amount that public schools can spend per pupil, will free up funds to expand the reach of EITC to more middle class families, and will return unused money to the state coffers. These are just a few of many benefits, but it is clear that school choice will improve the education of countless Pennsylvanians, whether a family chooses public or private school. Is that not a common goal upon which we can all agree?
Catholic schools play a vital role in the Commonwealth: our over 500 schools have educated millions of intelligent, active and community-minded Pennsylvanians. These schools educate both Catholics and non-Catholics in an academically excellent and nurturing environment. This essential service not only helps to create new generations of productive and engaged citizens, but also saves over $4 billion tax dollars annually.
Catholic and private schools already participate in the marketplace of education. We must meet the high expectations of parents, for they have the freedom to withdraw their students and choose a different school if they feel it will better meet their needs. Current school choice legislation places all educational institutions into this marketplace and recognizes the moral obligation of educating each and every child to their potential. The public schools of the state of Pennsylvania and the fine teachers and administrators who labor there are our collaborators in fulfilling this obligation, not our adversaries. School choice is not a public versus non-public school issue; it is a family and child issue. Each family should have a full range of educational options within its grasp; this is a civil right for every parent.
The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania support school choice legislation that includes a voucher program and an increase in the successful EITC program. We have reached a critical moment in the debate over school choice. Now is the time for the Pennsylvania legislature to ensure that ideal educational opportunities are accessible and available to all. There are few priorities more important than educating for the future.