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US Bishops welcome bipartisan bill on Catholic schools

The Bishops of the United States express their support for a new bipartisan resolution which would recognize the contribution Catholic-run schools make toward improving American society.

By Lisa Zengarini

US Bishops have welcomed a new bipartisan resolution “Supporting the Contributions of Catholic Schools”, which has taken its first step towards becoming law.

The text was submitted to Congress by Illinois Representative Darin LaHood, and by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey (PA), and approved by the House of Representatives on 28 January (Res. 66).

The Resolution states that the Congress “supports the dedication of Catholic schools, students, parents, and teachers across the United States toward academic excellence, and supports the key role they play in promoting and ensuring a brighter, stronger future for the Nation.”

It also expresses support for the goals of the National Catholic Schools Week, which the US Catholic Church celebrated from January 31st to February 6, and applauds the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and the US Bishops Conference (USCCB) for the theme chosen this year, which was “Catholic Schools: Learn. Faith. Excellence. Service”. The theme reflects Catholic schools’ purpose to form students to be good citizens of the world, love God and neighbour, and enrich society with the leaven of the Gospel and by example of faith.

Commitment to excellence

Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ of Oakland, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, has welcomed the bipartisan initiative.

“Catholic schools are a unique gift to the nation," he says. "We honour the dignity of every child through an integral formation that includes academic excellence, but with an equal focus on heart, mind, and soul. This is a preparation not only for college and career, but for heaven itself.”

In a statement, he points out that “this commitment was on full display in the past year as Catholic schools excelled during the Covid pandemic,” when Catholic schools rapidly transitioned to online learning in the spring of 2020, and "our Catholic school leaders worked all summer to prepare buildings for in-person learning."

“In the fall of 2020, 80 percent of Catholic schools offered some degree of in-person learning,” the Bishops adds.

Improving society

According to the US Bishops, Catholic social teaching instills a love of community and country with graduates contributing to civil society at all levels, most notably among the nation’s leaders, including at the highest levels of government and public service.

The most recent NCEA data say that Catholic school student enrollment for the school year 2020-21 is almost 1.65 million, in over 6,000 schools, including 22 percent of students from racial minority backgrounds, 18.1 percent from Hispanic heritage, and 24.5 percent from non-Catholic families.

Catholic-school crisis

However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Catholic schools with over 200 schools permanently closing in 2020.

Last week, in a letter to Congress regarding the approval of an additional Covid-relief package, US Bishops asked for “explicit equitable services for Catholic and other non-public schools in the next Education Stabilization Fund or similar K-12 education fund.”

They argued that the funds "should be made available to students and teachers in all non-public schools without unnecessary bureaucratic thresholds, such as prior participation in federal education programs.”

09 February 2021, 12:44