The Faith in the Future Foundation used a Sept. 13 visit to an assembly at Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a large contingent of state legislators and Archbishop Charles Chaput as a backdrop to unveil “E20K: Educate 20,000” an ambitious program to increase enrollment in the high schools to 20,000 students in coming years. (See a slideshow of the assembly.)

The foundation assumed management of Philadelphia’s 17 archdiocesan high schools and four schools of special education Sept. 1.

Bonner/Prendergast, which is one of the four high schools recommended for closing last January by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Catholic Education but given a reprieve by Archbishop Chaput, is one of three high schools that reported this year’s freshman class exceeds in size the other three classes.

Overall, according to Edward Hanway, chairman of the Faith in the Future Foundation, the high schools exceeded previous forecasts for enrollment.

In addition, total freshman enrollment across the system is on par with sophomore enrollment, something that has not happened in years.

Faith in the Future Foundation has an immediate goal to raise $100 million, which can be used to offset deficits in the high schools and provide scholarship money and also assist the Catholic elementary schools.

Also important for the health of the Catholic schools and all nonpublic education is state funding, especially through the successful Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which has been providing assistance to low- and middle-income students for the past decade through state tax credits for businesses that participate through scholarships offered for the students. At this time 40,000 students in the state receive scholarship money.

Under the latest state budget, engineered by the Corbett administration, a new Opportunity Tax Credit (OSTC) has been authorized for up to $50 million per year. This focuses on students of low and moderate income living within the area served by the bottom 15 percent of low achieving schools identified through standardized tests.

These students would be eligible for a credit that could be carried to any other public or nonpublic school. Because many of the schools so identified are within the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia, archdiocesan schools expect to benefit from the credit.

“With OSTC, the support of the local business community and the support of all who love our schools, I believe we can and will educate 20,000 (high school) students across this region again,” Hanway said. “Our schools produce outstanding young men and women who are prepared for life-long success.”

Archbishop Chaput said that when he decided to keep Bonner/Prendergast open, “I called upon our legislators and Gov. Corbett to pass school choice legislation. I want to thank Gov. Corbett and the members of the Pennsylvania Legislature for their efforts. OSTC is an important first step in providing school choice to all students and while there is much to be done we stand strong and ready to make OSTC a landmark program in Pennsylvania and a model for other states.”

Corbett in his remarks noted that education is a priority of his administration, and quality education is something that must be provided to students if society is to continue.

“The two tax credits that have been granted provide for education but they provide for something else – competition for the schools,” Corbett said. “With competition we all become better.

“It shouldn’t matter if your parents are rich or poor,” he said. “Each student needs access to an education that works best for them. In many cases the best school is a public school, but sometimes a student needs something different.”

As for future initiatives, the governor said, “We have got to see how this moves along; this is a very big accomplishment. At the same time we have to increase the quality of public education.”

In addition to the Archbishop, the governor and Faith in the Future representatives, many other friends of Catholic education were in attendance at the assembly. Not least among them was Josephine Mandeville, who heads the Connelly Foundation, which very quietly has provided assistance in many forms to Catholic schools throughout the Archdiocese for many years.

Of Faith in the Future, “we are partners,” she said. “I hope we can do a whole lot more working together.”

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Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.