Advocating for Catholic Schools
Last week we observed “Catholic Schools” Week, a chance to trumpet the acclaimed work of our schools – – which, as one of our elected officials in Albany remarked, “Does twice the good work at half the price” in educating our children – – and to thank our leaders and benefactors for helping us keep them strong.
If last week was a high, this week we’re down, as we’ve had to announce the closing of five schools. Another will transition to an early childhood center in September.
Yes, the somberness is softened some as we recall that these are the first closings or changes in five years.
Yes, the sadness is mitigated a bit as we can report that all the children affected can be enthusiastically welcomed at the Catholic school next door –except, I’m sorry to say, in Sullivan County, where students from St. Peter’s Regional School will be welcomed at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Middletown, although that school is at a greater distance than I expect many parents will feel comfortable sending their children each day.
These stellar Catholic schools help the community dramatically. Let me just mention one incredible stat: 98% of our high school seniors graduate on time, and 96% of them go on to college! A large part of that high school success is that our Catholic elementary schools do a great job getting students ready to learn and thrive in high school. No wonder we’re so proud of them, and committed to keeping them open!
But these celebrated schools that so help society need help! Although four of these school changes were decided because the school is no longer connected to a local parish church and office, and only two were made due to declining enrollment, it is still a fact that we must always fight for our schools. We often find ourselves in a catch-22: if we raise tuition, fewer parents, already sacrificing so much to meet even our modest tuition, can’t do it, and tearfully withdraw their children; if we don’t increase fees, well, we don’t have enough funds.
That’s why we’re so grateful to our benefactors, of all faiths or none, who are especially generous to our Inner City Catholic School Scholarship Fund, and to our own Catholic people, who dig deep each year to help keep them strong.
When he was with us in 2015, I had the honor of introducing Pope Francis to some of these dedicated benefactors during his visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels school. Afterwards, the Holy Father asked me, “Why do you have to raise money for your schools?” He was puzzled when I told him that our schools do not receive support from the government. “How can this be?” he wondered. “In every other country that I know, the government assists the parents in this way.”
We will not stop advocating for our schools, and will continue to seek justice either through vouchers, tax credits, or the Education Investment Tax Credit.
It seems so logical: does not a parent have the right to designate his or her tax money to the school of their choice? Who is ultimately responsible for the education of our children? The government, or the parents?
Over half of the states already provide such a boost as credits or vouchers. You would think a state like New York that brags about being so avant-garde, so innovative and creative, would not give in to past prejudice against our schools, would not capitulate to the pressure of powerful public school teachers unions, and would welcome such enlightened aid.
I’ll guarantee you this: as this week’s closings are announced, I’ll hear from state senators and assembly members to complain. But I sure won’t hear from most of them when promising legislation comes to them and I ask for their support.
Last year we enjoyed the vigorous support of Governor Cuomo in this fight. This year, our cause is not even mentioned in his agenda. Even his enlightened proposal to dramatically lower college tuition leaves out any mention of our wonderful Catholic colleges.
We won’t give up. But, we can’t do it alone. We need a partnership of all in affirming our schools. We work hard to improve our public schools and the Charter initiative. We just wish others would return the favor.