The Philadelphia School Partnership launched at a press conference Oct. 7 with soaring rhetoric and a bold vision. The new organization spearheaded by developer Michael O’Neill, also chairman of Business Leadership Organized for Catholic Schools, hopes to bring business and civic leaders together to reform and support all schools in the city of Philadelphia – public, charter, parochial and private.

Impassioned speeches aimed to rally supporters, and especially to solicit their money, to raise the quality of education for Philadelphia’s children. {{more}}

The public schools face a dire need to improve. The partnership cited a 2009 national reading assessment that ranked Philadelphia public school students near the bottom of 18 major cities participating in the test. The partnership envisions an ambitious triad of raising $100 million, making Philadelphia number one among U.S. cities in reading and math and doing it all by 2015.

The goal of helping all students achieve is a noble one, but what does it mean to Catholic schools and the students and families they serve? According to Nick Torres of the partnership, its funds will “help Catholic schools develop a business plan and help implement it.”

No doubt there is a value in developing a business plan, but more than that is needed to keep Catholic schools competitive with ever-burgeoning free charter schools. Catholic schools already offer a high quality of education. The best way to help them continue their mission to assist parents in educating the whole child is to help more students attend a Catholic school. They need scholarship aid.

BLOCS has been doing this for 30 years. Last year, according executive director Joe Garecht, the organization distributed $2.5 million in direct scholarship aid to Catholic school students. Most of that came from Pennsylvania’s popular EITC business tax credit, along with other efforts.

Garecht said BLOCS has raised $11 million since September so that seven Catholic schools, five in Philadelphia and two in Delaware County, will receive matching gifts of their fundraising efforts in order to establish an endowment at each school.

Might this kind of effective fundraising be diluted by a new overarching fundraising effort in Philadelphia among a finite pool of donor funds? That remains to be seen.

The Archdiocese remains cautiously optimistic and hopes the Philadelphia School Partnership, as archdiocesan superintendent Mary Rochford said at the press conference, is “respectful of our Catholic school mission all the while willing to assist us in ways to ensure our ongoing presence and positive impact on the lives of the children and families we serve throughout this great city.”