Catholic schools are in trouble in America and in these darkening economic times, we should expect it only to get worse as families find it increasingly difficult to afford private school tuition. In the last two decades, at least 1,300 Catholic schools have closed. Most were located in our cities, where many children attend low-performing public schools.
Pundits are pushing Sen. John McCain to make vouchers a key fight in the upcoming election. Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review writes convincingly of the need for vouchers. The Washington Post even came out for vouchers today saying, “What’s at stake is not a political point of honor but the opportunity for children to go to schools that work for them. Second, it’s a program that is supported by District leaders and embraced by their constituents. A measure of its popularity is how demand for the scholarships outstrips capacity.”
Yes. Among many, vouchers are very popular. But here’s the sad truth. It’s probably not going to happen. Why? Because there’s little in it for the politicians.
In politics everything comes down to votes and money. Republicans would love to make vouchers a reality. Democrats, who believe in choice when it comes to killing children but not when it comes to educating them, are tied in to the teacher’s unions because of their huge political donations.
So what’s left for the Republicans if all the money goes to the Dems? The votes? African Americans, for the most part, are the ones who most need the vouchers to escape failing inner city schools. So the Republicans would need to get African Americans to vote Republican to support vouchers and that hasn’t happened and it’s certainly not going to happen in this cycle with Sen. Barack Obama on the top of the ticket.
So for Republicans there’s no votes or money in the deal so that would seem to be ballgame. But wait, what about Catholic voters? Sadly, many of them want vouchers in theory but don’t want voucher students in their children’s schools.
I’ve run a few political campaigns in urban/suburban areas and I’ve seen that many white middle class voters have moved out of the cities and into the suburbs in order to escape the worst aspects of city schools for their children. In short, they don’t want vouchers. They love their children and want to protect them. And quite frankly, many don’t want busloads of African American kids being bussed out to the their children’s schools which they pay such high taxes to keep. And those suburbs around major cities in swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan are crucial in the upcoming election.
Sen. McCain has favored vouchers but favoring them and making them a staple of his campaign are two different things. One hope is that his pushing vouchers is one of his much needed olive branches to Christian conservatives but I think McCain is also going to be the recipient of anti-Obama votes from Christian conservatives so we’ve yet to see how strongly McCain is going to court the right wing of his party.
Sadly, Catholic schools are going to have an increasingly difficult time of things until a champion can come along to push vouchers as a social justice issue. That someone may just be the Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal who is pushing either vouchers or tax credits for parents for their children’s education. If it works in Louisiana and minority voters there see an appreciable improvement in their children’s education then Republicans may push Jindal for nationwide office as a candidate who can make real inroads to minority populations.
April 29, 2008 at 7:10 pm
So what you’re saying is Republicans are racist?
April 29, 2008 at 7:23 pm
The problem with vouchers is that you can never help 100% of the kids with them. What we really need is to change the public education system to really and truly educate children’s hearts and minds, but that’s unlikely to happen. One day, my husband and I will buy a house and pay property taxes that support public schools…and I hope they can serve their children well. We plan on homeschooling (for too many reasons to name here).
We are very lucky to live in a diocese in which every parish practices stewardship and can offer active families in the church free tuition at the parochial school (and the local Catholic high schools as children grow). It is such a blessing for our families. I wonder how much more it would take from each family to be able to give a little bit extra for parishes in areas that are not so blessed.
April 29, 2008 at 8:14 pm
Excellent analysis of the situation.
April 29, 2008 at 8:18 pm
you say that the problem with vouchers is that you can never help 100% of the kids with them but isn’t helping some better than none?
April 29, 2008 at 9:16 pm
It’s always better to help some rather than none!
My worry about vouchers is that it detracts from the overall problems with the system itself. Vouchers could be useful and great for lots of kids, but would be detrimental overall if people think “Well, now we have vouchers, all our problems are solved!” and stop working for other educational reforms.
April 29, 2008 at 10:35 pm
It is more than just economics.
In my area more Catholics schools are opening because of demographics. Areas that once had lots of schools but with decreasing family size and people moving out of those areas it is no surprise that so many schools are closing.
Plus how many Catholics parents now think that a Catholic educations is so important in the first place when they don’t take thier own faith all that seriously.
Now economics is surely a factor and it is the loss of more than half the population of religious that has had a massive effect on costs. With enough availablre priests, nuns, and brothers to get involved in Catholics eduction costs go way down.
But even with the modern model the problems are not insurmonuntable. Bishop Baker now in Birmingham when he was a preist in my area started a stewardship program in his parish that made educaton free for the parishoners children. This is the best model without relying on the government and the strings they might attach.
I generally favor vouchers since people are being penalized and having to pay twice for their children’s education. No system though it going to be ideal, but the current system is not fair at all.
April 29, 2008 at 11:25 pm
Jeff, agreed. As I have a bunch of kids in Catholic school right now I feel the pain.
Kansas, Actually if each voucher is say for $2,000 and say 10 percent of the kids opt out of public schools, the actual money per pupil goes up in the public school as the public school spends about $10,000 per kid so that $8,000 which doesn’t follow the child who’s now in private school that can go towards helping those who stay in public.
April 30, 2008 at 12:23 am
Money does not solve the church’s problems: God does. Schooling does not solve the world’s problems: God does.
Vouchers would not necessarily help Catholic schools, perhaps it would give the government hooks with which to ensnare our schools. Look how “Catholic” schools in Canada operate. In truth many of them are now vehemently anti-Catholic. I would not want our Catholic schools in the US to be held hostage in such a way.
In truth it will take faith to bring back Catholic schools. If we return to the faith, parents will bring their children to Catholic schools.
April 30, 2008 at 1:46 am
Since Catholic schools must follow government curricula (except in religion class, of course) in order to receive the governmental funding they already do receive, and since in more and more states Catholic school students must take the same government-authored standardized tests as the public school students, it seems only fair that people should be able to choose this type of government education over the public school type.
If we want Catholic schools to be truly Catholic, we would want less government involvement in them, not more. But the opportunity to demand that disappeared long ago.
What the government administers, the government controls. Vouchers will not come sans strings. But since the only truly Catholic subject still taught in Catholic schools is religion (depending of course on the diocese–some dioceses are quite comfortable teaching a sort of vague Christian spirituality instead) it’s hard to see how government vouchers will do more damage to the model of Catholic education than that which has already been done.
April 30, 2008 at 2:07 am
More money is not necessarily the answer, if the schools just keep spending more on doing stuff that isn’t working. It could be, too, that the parents most likely to be involved in bettering a school will be those that choose to take a voucher and move their kids to another one.
I find it a little amusing I’m here arguing against vouchers when I’m not against them in practice.
April 30, 2008 at 2:35 am
Debate is great anyway. Keeps us hopping and away from changing diapers.
April 30, 2008 at 3:18 am
Interesting points for and against. I just want a little tax deduction for homeschool supplies.
April 30, 2008 at 3:25 am
I was just thinking what wondrous things I could buy with a $2000 voucher per child being credited to my homeschool!
April 30, 2008 at 4:57 am
Don’t worry. Homeschooling will be illegal within a few years.
April 30, 2008 at 12:33 pm
“Don’t worry. Homeschooling will be illegal within a few years.”
And the Catholic Church, or the one loyal to the Holy Father, anyway, will be forced underground. It’ll be like China. We’ll have an overground church, the one with government approval, and an underground Church, persecuted for it’s refusal to submit to government authority. A new age of American martyrs!
April 30, 2008 at 2:01 pm
Red Cardigan is right on. The last thing we need is bringing more government into our schools. Consider that in England, where the religious schools receive public money, there is quite the public effort to remove the radical religion from those Catholic schools. This isn’t going down without a fight of course, but it would be much easier not to have the public money, and keep the Catholic identity. Likewise in California, the issues with Catholic Hospitals being forced to offer services that are contrary to Catholic Doctrine.
Be careful of what you wish for…
April 30, 2008 at 6:40 pm
It isn’t just republicans that are racist, reality is, too. Otherwise, how do explain that you are more likely to be killed in inner-city Philadelphia than you are in Iraq? That, while African-Americans make up 30% of the population, they are responisble for 60% of the crime? So, no, I don’t want INNER CITY black kids imported into my schools. It isn’t so much that they are black, as it is they are inner-city. Can I help it if they happen to be black?
Besides, as anyone with two eyes and a desire to see reality can see, it isn’t their skin color, its their culture.
One last thing, Republicans may not want inner-city children in their schools, but at least we don’t validate their victomhood. Or, like planned parenthood, specifically target african-american children for abortion.
May 1, 2008 at 1:42 am
Vouchers will do for Catholic primary and secondary schools what federal funding has done for Catholic colleges . . . destroy them. It would be one thing if the State were dedicated to supporting the Church. But it ain’t.
May 1, 2008 at 1:49 am
Help me out with this, because maybe I don’t understand. I thought that vouchers were given to the parents, and the parents could use them to go to whatever school they chose for their child, public or private, Catholic or otherwise. The voucher money doesn’t technically go to the school, it goes to the parents, so there is a separation between the money and the school. Thus, it’s not federal money going to a Catholic school, but federal money going to a parent. So, there is a separation between the feds and the Catholic school, so no federal strings controlling the school. Given separation of Church and state, I don’t see how giving federal money directly to a Catholic school would be constitutional.
Am I wrong? That’s how I always understood it to work.
May 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm
Catholic schools are in trouble because they are not teaching children Catholic values. My kids learned about contraception and elitism in Catholic school. My local Catholic high school teaches moral relativism and has a priest that teaches that the Church is not always right. That is why Catholic schools are in trouble. It is not about money, it is about abandoning God.