By Vatican News
Last week Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., Chairman for Catholic Education for the US Bishops’ Conference, joined more than 150 interfaith partners in a petition sent to the US Congress calling for “immediate federal aid to benefit low-income students in non-public schools”.
In the letter, the coalition stated that “States and districts will face an unbearable financial burden if current private school students transfer into public schools in significant numbers”.
They also requested 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.
Effects of COVID pandemic
In an interview with Christopher Wells, Bishop Barber spelled out the dramatic effects the pandemic is having on Catholic education in the country.
He explained that for those parents who are paying tuition fees in a non-public school, there's no assistance whatsoever given by the government.
“They’ve got to put food on the table first or pay for their medicine or whatever. So we estimate right now that over a hundred Catholic schools have already announced they're not going to reopen in the fall because they don't have the enrollment”.
As the economic toll of the pandemic continues to hit hard, many people have found themselves out of work. This in turn has had a knock-on effect on traditional funding through parishes.
The Bishop noted that a lot of parishes support their Catholic parochial school and usually provide a subsidy. With parishes unable to have public Mass, he said, “they're not able to take up collections. And so where are they going to get the money, first of all to pay their own bills and keep the lights on in the church, let alone to bail out the school?”
Letter to Congress
Speaking about the recent petition sent to Congress by the Bishops’ Conference and a coalition of interfaith partners, calling for federal aid for non-public schools, Bishop Barber explained that the bill going through the US House of Representatives excludes all children and families that send their kids to private schools. “This is what formed the Coalition. We said this is unfair because 10% of children in the US attend a non-public school. And those are our kids too and those kids and their families deserve help.”
The Bishop also emphasized his belief that parents should have a choice about where they send their children to school. “They shouldn't just be forced to send them to the local public school and have no other alternative because the public school then has no incentive to do a good job or not”.
He continued by saying that “right now, just Catholic schools, we save the taxpayers of the USA twenty billion dollars annually. I don't know what the figure is if you included all private schools in that, but it will be significantly higher again. We're paying taxes. We're still supporting public school. And so we're asking then [that] our families get the help they need to pay tuition to send their kids to schools of their choice, and so that's why the coalition came together.”
Minorities and Catholic Schools
Bishop Barber pointed out that over 20% of children attending Catholic Schools are from minority communities and “the parents deeply love that Catholic school because it's helping their child and the public school isn't.”
Asked what the Church can do to address the issue of schools that have already announced closures, the Bishop of Baltimore said, “what we can do I think is appeal that some of our tax money that goes to education of children be shared with families and give them school choice options.”
Catholic education, the Bishop underlined, “is the best way we have to hand on our faith to the next generation.”