By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
The United States Bishops Conference (USCCB) announced on Friday that Bishop Barber, their Chairman for Catholic Education, joined more than 150 interfaith partners in a petition sent to the US Congress on Thursday. In it, they request the provision of “immediate federal aid to benefit low-income students in non-public schools”.
Catholic Schools hit hard by Covid-19
Many Catholic schools in the US that depend heavily on weekly collections taken up in parishes have sustained huge economic losses. Without that income, 100 have closed recently, and hundreds are “facing an uncertain future”, the USCCB statement reads.
Bishop Barber sustains that government aid is “vital” to keep the Catholic school system viable. “Catholic education has been an integral part of the American experience,” Barber says, “and a means to lift many from poverty." "That mission is imperiled because of the economic devastation facing many families across the country; as families lose income, they are unable to make the tuition payments that sustain our schools.”
National enrollment in Catholic schools in the US is currently 1,737,297 in 6,183 schools.
Request to Congress
In the letter the coalition sent to congress, the signers recognize that “students and families are facing acute hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic”. They emphasize that this is true of every student, both those who attend public schools as well as those who attend private ones. “We believe”, the letter continues, “that families seeking the best education opportunities for their children, especially those facing difficulties due to COVID19, should be supported”.
Closure is the only other alternative private schools face without economic aid from the government. The signers declare this would be devastating to both public and private schools alike. “States and districts will face an unbearable financial burden if current private school students transfer into public schools in significant numbers”. In addition, public schools would not be able to structurally sustain such an influx of additional students.
The specific requests are in the form of a “one-time emergency tuition grant for low to middle-income private school families” and Federal Tax Credits for people who donate to scholarship programs.
The signers end the letter stating they look forward to the Congress’s support so together they can “preserve and strengthen educational opportunities for all students”.