This Sunday, May 20, is “Voucher Sunday.” You won’t find it on the Catholic liturgical calendar, but this year in Pennsylvania, it’s a vital day nonetheless.
Over the past few months, people across the Archdiocese have been working with renewed urgency and zeal to rebuild the health of our Catholic schools. Alumni and alumnae have rallied to financially support their alma maters. Private donors have been generous. But in the long run – as I’ve already cautioned several times – some of our schools will be forced to close without the passage of opportunity scholarships (i.e., school-choice vouchers) and increased Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) funding. This isn’t a “maybe.” It’s a certainty driven by economic facts.
Without vouchers, we simply can’t continue to bear the heavy cost of operating schools that are financially unsustainable, despite the great service they provide to the wider community.
The value to society of a good education no matter who provides it can be illustrated with a simple story.
About a decade ago, I came across a story in The New York Times. The headline read: “Why the ignorant are blissful: Inept individuals ooze confidence, study shows.” It turns out that David Dunning, a professor at Cornell, did a study of incompetence. What he discovered is that most incompetent people don’t know they’re incompetent. In fact, he learned that people who do things badly tend to be very confident about their ability. They’re often more confident than the people who do things well.
Dunning went on to find that the ignorant overestimate their abilities for a good reason. The skills they lack in order to be competent are usually the same skills they need to recognize incompetence. In fact, said one of Dunning’s colleagues, “not only do [incompetent people] reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.”
Now that’s a true story, and we can smile at it. A good sense of humor, like a good sense of humility, can keep us healthy and sane. But the lesson I want to draw from it today is a serious one. Education matters because it forms the young people who will create the future of our country. Sophisticated technology does not make a person whole. It can’t create an unselfish spirit or a mature human heart. Fools with tools are still fools.
The genius of Catholic schools, when they’re led with passion and adequate resources, is that they create a lifelong love of learning; they teach the academic skills to achieve real excellence, not just in the classroom but in adult life; and they shape the kind of moral character that makes for worthy citizenship and an honorable life. This is the dignity God intends for His people. This is why Catholic schools succeed where others often fail. This is why they’re worth fighting to save.
Catholic and other non-public schools currently save Pennsylvania taxpayers more than $4 billion every year. School-choice legislation that includes vouchers and increased EITC funding reinforces the fact that parents – not the state – are the primary educators of their children.
Legislation currently being drafted in Harrisburg could usher in 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 where students are assigned to a school based solely on geographic location.
The next three weeks are crucial. These coming days will determine the success or failure of school-choice efforts in our Commonwealth. Our Catholic schools and the many students who benefit from them depend on your voice. I ask you – I urge you – to please contact your state representative and state senator. Call them. Write them. E-mail them. Visit them. Press your legislators to bring this bill up and support vouchers and increased EITC funding. It’s so important. Please speak up now.
Use the Pennsylvania Catholic Advocacy Network to e-mail your state legislators in support of school vouchers and increased EITC funding at www.pacatholic.org.
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To S.T. Malone;
“Vouchers go to parents, not to schools. It’s wise advice to be cautious about entangling ourselves with government, but that can easily become an excuse for doing nothing. Government becomes the enemy when we get lazy and concede it too much power. There is no reason why that needs to be the outcome with vouchers an EITC funding.” S.T. Malone
Grassroot efforts, organizations, tea parties, much involvement in government, there is no lacking of effort or involvement. Allowing government the opportunity to alter our autonomy is not worth the risks through vouchers. To the point; reasons why religious Heirarchy in New York (Dolan), Erie and Scranton are in litigation over religious HHS freedom. The core values of life, health, marriage and family are currently disrupted, why challenge the autonomy of our daily faith formation with increased government in our schools? We have too many issues on the front as it is.
The increase and expansion of EITC is the safest legislation for school choice.
I was able to deduct some of the cost of my daughters’ daycare (at a privately-owned facility)from my taxes. I was also able to deduct some of the cost of my private college education from my taxes. I believe I was able to take these deductions regardless of any income eligibility.
If I can get a tax break for pre-school and a tax break for college, it seems very silly not to get a similar break for the school years in between.
While I do see the value, I have many questions and concerns about school choice. One that I can’t seem to find, or maybe I’m just not getting it, is how the parents will get the money for tuition. The information provided says that the money goes to the parents. Is it a check that parents receive from the State? Is it in the form of a tax write off at the end of the year (which would mean the parents would need to pay the tuition upfront and get reimbursed at tax time)? Or is it another way that I haven’t thought of? With the two methods I’ve noted above, there are issues and concerns.
Another question is how to ensure that the government has no say in what is taught or not taught in Catholic schools. On a related note, will the government have a say in whether students would be required to stay if they are there on a voucher even if they would otherwise be asked to leave by the Catholic school (discipline issues, special needs not being able to be met, etc.).
I would also like to understand how public school funding and budgets work. If the state subsidy is taken from the public school and follows the student, that is less money that is going to the public school. I am assuming that the amount that is published for the cost of educating a student in the public school system is an average. Therefore, if you are taking out a student who uses limited resources, but all of his subsidy is leaving, that will leave the public school with less money than it currently uses.
Please note that I am a product of Catholic schools as are my children. I believe in Catholic schools and the excellent education that is provided. I would like this excellence to continue, and don’t want to make a change that will negatively impact the value of Catholic schools. I would like all things to be thought out (and in a binding agreement) before vouchers are instituted.
Ten years ago when vouchers were introduced and failed we were in surplus.
Today, we are in deficit. To initiate new programs, while cutting others …would be a hard sell.
The Archbishop is indeed new to Pennsylvania, and Colorado is a (somewhat) different environment. But that’s irrelevant. Every other PA bishop supports vouchers for our Commonwealth, so does the PA Catholic Conference and their legal experts, and so do various other experienced educational choice organizations. Vouchers are not at all impossible here, and the constitutional question, as I noted above, is *not* clear and in any case should be decided by a legal challenge. Until a bill passes, the constiutional argument is simply an excuse for inaction.
Those disagreeing with Archbishop Chaput’s advice need to remember that in the matter of the EITC Legislation the educational tax dollars, which are the parents’ money, follow the student, whose family chooses where to send their educational tax money.
What we need is a complete reevaluation of Catholic education not a half baked attempt to secure government funds. Historically, Catholic Schools were formed (in Philadelphia) due to the anti-Catholic bias of the public schools at that time. Since the anti-Catholic bias has passed, perhaps, we should consider the reality that CCD and PREP Programs are more effective and less costly than full scale Archdiocesan schools.
I would suggest that rich Catholics will always be able to afford to send their children to Catholic academies run by religious orders (e.g. La Salle, St. Joe’s Prep, Mount St Joseph’s ,Gwynedd Mercy, etc.). It is the middle class and poor Catholics which are increasingly not able to send their children to Archdiocesan schools because of the rising cost. Therefore, I recommend that the Archdiocese close ALL of its schools and greatly expand the CCD / PREP Programs at each parish. The influx of Catholic students into the public school system will necessitate increased real estate taxes for all taxpayers in the Delaware Valley; this is how it should be and should have been for the last 40 years.
Robert, check the PSSA test scores in the majority of the schools in the School District in Philadelphia. Do you have children who are school-aged? Do you want them to be the ones to suffer for years as an already poorly run district struggles to compensate for such an influx of children? Do you know the teacher turn-over rate in some of these schools? How many buildings have been closed? What it would take to reopen and restaff them? “Necessitate increased real estate taxes” – how long will that take while children sit and wait – what will we do when that generation of the non-educated reaches 18?
Pennsylvania is not the same as Colorado.
Robert and Gloria:
Yes, I see your point: We should just roll over and keep getting hammered, and the bishops of the state are completely misguided in this effort, as are their attorneys and advisers . . .
Are you serious?
I’ll go with the archbishop and the PA Catholic Conference on this one. The archbishop strikes me as neither misinformed or ill-advised or lacking in prudence when he presses an issue.
I agree with Robert. Even if the legislature passes a voucher bill, it will be challenged in court and declared unconstitutional. It matters not what the SCOTUS says, if the state constitution explicitly forbids tax money going to sectarian schools, then that is the law.
You would need an amendment to the state constitution that allows vouchers, and, yes, any sectarian school, including Muslim, Jewish, or fundamentalist Christian can apply.
Does everyone know that in Milwaukee, where vouchers have been in effect for a decade, the parochial school students must take the same state exams as the public school kids.
You take the state’s money, you must teach to the state’s test.
To S.T. Malone:
The fact that vouchers may work in other States is irrelevant. Each State is a sovereign entity with its own State Constitution (which of course must be consistent with the Federal Constitution). The reality is that Article III Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution prevents the use of: (1) monies raised by the General Assembly for public education from being used for sectarian schools; and, (2) monies raised by local school districts from being used for sectarian schools. My point is that an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution will clearly be required to move forward with vouchers. (Incidentally, if such an amendment is successful, all private schools including Muslim and Jewish schools would have to be treated the same).
Vouchers have already been challenged at the federal level and, properly designed, are fully constitutional. They already work in other states. As for the Pennsylvania Constitution, Article III, Section 15 reads:
“Public School Money Not Available to Sectarian Schools
“No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”
The whole point of vouchers is that they return parents’ money *to the parents* who then make whatever school choice they deem best. It’s the parents’ money, not the state’s. And if there’s a constitutional challenge to that interpretation — and there probably would be, since vouchers are always perceived as a threat by teachers’ unions — then so be it. It makes no difference to the prudence of this year’s effort. There’s no need at all to prematurely tie the issue up in a constitutional amendment.
Please read Article III Section 15 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. You should be trying to admend the Pennsylvania Constitution before trying to get vouchers.
Catholic schools are everything mentioned.
The letter read: 8th paragraph:
“we focus on the ideal educational environment for each student, not on a mandatory system where students are assigned to a school based solely on geographic location.”
However, fact not opinion: The students with vouchers may attend ANY school of choice, but actual parishoners are forbidden to leave the parish boundaries and attend a school of choice that best suits that individual child.
Vouchers go to parents, not to schools. It’s wise advice to be cautious about entangling ourselves with government, but that can easily become an excuse for doing nothing. Government becomes the enemy when we get lazy and concede it too much power. There is no reason why that needs to be the outcome with vouchers an EITC funding.
Vouchers may go to parents but the “choice” always remains with the school. There is nothing compulsory about accepting students with vouchers and expelling students with vouchers is always a possibility.
In short, vouchers are a false choice. They will benefit only a few at the expense of the many who will then be deprived of the funding that goes to the voucher.
Also, once private schools accept public money, they cease to be private. And I agree with all the above comments about curriculum changes and other imposed rules and regulation.
Besides, this is all moot, since the Pennsylvania constitution forbids any support for sectarian education.
Excellent answer! I hope you share these comments with your own state legislators, and top leadership in Harrisburg!
EITC puts accountability on the plate, as with every entitlement program, there is a huge disconnect our government has with its own laws. The benefits had good intentions when originally implemented, but when they are not monitored properly, aftermaths occur.
There is already a lack of Professional resources. Resolution strategies for discipline, behavioral, emotional, physical issues, and learning disabilities are extremely limited and unavailable. Teacher classroom management skills, modifications and strategies for learning would be limited with one teacher:25 ratio. The services provided by the Intermediate units are minimal offering at most a day of specified services in group settings. Teacher aides would be a gift in a regular controlled setting. Because the schools are private, they do not have to accept every child, nor does the child have to follow any religious practices. They can refuse the Eucharist and Sacraments. The students who attend these schools must be strong swimmers or have strong parental supportive and financial involvement. Many, parents in these schools must hire their own private after school tutors @ $50.00-75.hr because there is only one teacher per grade. Our schools have high graduation rates because; of ‘buy-in” investments.
The low income voucher is not going to ‘rescue’ the child, but frustrate them, unless there are daily auxilliary services, teacher aides, guidance counselors and involved parents providing home structure, meals, proper rest, homework preparedness and attend teacher conferences. Hours are required for studying, researching, and doing projects. Providing a child 6.5 per day out of the circumstances from which they arrived only provides temporary relief,continuity at home is important but there are no consequences for poor parenting. Which is more reason why ETIC is successful, it is tuition ASSISTANCE, making the parents ACCOUNTABLE. Kids will benefit from the spiritual aspect, but the horizon of Catholic identity will alter with the civil issues they persue, just ask our current U.S Leadership. Parochial schools have legitimate and serious concerns with future government mandates, auditing, controlls, regulations and liberties following government dollars. I.e. the Ten Commandments, crucifixes in rooms, the American flag, Life concepts, marriage identity, prayer and mandates.
Vouchers are only for students of extremely low poverty and must reside in a failing school district.
The EITC is broad-based at mid income range of $60,000 and benefits public schools for technology, woman abuse centers, YMCA’s and non public schools. Reasons why legislation sprinkles EITC on top of their bills for easier passage! Because everyone likes the bill. Eleven states attempted vouchers, many failed due to constitutionality, 7 won passage for EITC.
Attempts were made and failed to close the achievement gap through segregation years ago, which didn’t ‘fix ‘the problem then. EITC is a win-win. More Government will turn our schools of Tradition into ‘Alternative’ schools. – PEW Report.
Vouchers,mission schools, business partnership/ownership, the Great Schools Pact recently signed for Gates Foundation, the landscape is changing before our eyes and will alter our system forever.
EITC is safe, proven effective and allows businesses to designate their tax dollars to schools of choice with transparentcy and direction of their obligated tax dollars.
“But what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.” G.K. Chesterton. We need to immerse our children in an environment of rightly placed modesty! Vouchers will help!
I agree with Donna. In any event, vouchers are unconstitutional under Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
How are they unconstitutional? Can you cite where in the PA constitution does not allow for school vouchers? A lot of these comments on these articles, I wonder if it is just another union person afraid of a little competition. Vouchers work everywhere they have been tried! This has been going on for a year now. I think our PA Legislators are smart enough to present something that is not unconstitutional!
Catholic schools are indeed worth saving. However, one of the greatest things about Catholic schools is their freedom to set their own curriculum without much interference from the city, state, or fed gov’ts.
My concern is the more money state and fed gov’t puts into Catholic education, the more influence they will try to exert over what is taught. Given the current climate of gov’t interference with the freedom of religious institutions to conduct themselves in accordance with their faith (see ‘healthcare reform’), I would be very reluctant to open Catholic education to that same risk.
Ironically, my concern is not what they would insist on being taught in a Catholic school, but what they would prohibit. Compared to my peers who attended public schools, I came out with a much better and more comprehensive understanding of hot button topics such as evolution and human sexuality than anyone else I know. Considering the amount of drama that appears to cluster around these two topics when it comes to what kids should be taught and when, I was grateful to be in a school where no one but the school and the Archdiocese had any say in the matter. I shudder to think what could happen if the city’s Board of Education got their mitts on our schools’ curriculum.
Let us not forget our history: http://www.pbs.org/kcet/publicschool/photo_gallery/photo2.html
In short, it might be wise to be cautious about what one prays for.
Donna, I agree with you that allowing the state to “fund” Catholic education could lead to the state placing more control over our schools, to a point. But currently, Catholic schools receive math and reading texts from the state with tax dollars. Catholic students also receive bus transportation by law. At the end of the day, giving families vouchers to send their children to private schools is much cheaper than sending those same kids to the public schools, so it’s an economic no-brain-er. I think that most don’t agree with it because they’ve got an issue with Catholics.
When you contact your elected officials, state representatives and senators in order to secure their support for school vouchers and increased EITC funding, please make sure that you also urge them to support HB 832 and HB 878. These proposals will strengthen the laws needed to provide additional protection for all PA children fron the criminal actions of sexual predators. These proposals are currently being held by the Chairman of the PA House Judiciary Committee who, for over a year now, has refused to hold public hearings on these fine initiatives sponsored by Reps. Bishop and McGeehan, Philadelphia.