The Catholic community across Pennsylvania rose up to demand that their state legislators support school choice. Catholics with school-age children and those without sent letters, made phone calls and personal visits in the thousands with one message: we’re your constituents, and we want you to pass school choice legislation, especially in the form of vouchers.
Despite all this activity by Catholics and non-Catholics to help parents choose the best education for their child, the effort failed to pass, by a whisker.
That was 1995. In 2012, two sad facts face today’s proponents of school choice: there are fewer Catholic schools and up until now, a much weaker push from Catholics to their elected representatives.
Opportunities to pass vouchers do not come around every day. It’s taken 17 years to come to this moment where the governor (Gov. Tom Corbett) supports school choice, the state Senate passed a bill in late 2011 and some support exists in the House of Representatives. More is needed if a bill has a chance of passing. That is where rank-and-file Catholics come in.
Their opportunity is now. Catholics have to mobilize as they once did by telling legislators one simple message: I am your voting constituent, and I want you to pass a school choice program that includes vouchers and increased funding for the EITC, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit.
Linkage of the two planks is critical. Catholics can apply Church teaching on social justice by pushing for vouchers that help poor families choose a quality education for their children, especially in areas with weak schools. Vouchers would also free up the money available through EITC and allow limited Church subsidies to strengthen the entire Catholic school system. Vouchers and more tax credit monies together would help poor students access quality education and help stabilize Catholic schools.
A school choice law would help those who need it most today, and help everyone else by keeping good schools healthy.
School choice in Pennsylvania is a win-win proposition. But it can only happen if Catholics rouse themselves and contact their representatives and senators today … and next week, and the week and months after that. Keep up the pressure; with charity, yes, but sincerity and persistence always.
School choice cannot wait another 17 years for a moment like this.