The National Catholic Educational Association paints a bleak picture for Catholic education in America. There are currently only 6,568 Catholic schools remaining in the USA. During 2014 an additional 88 schools closed or consolidated, while only 27 new schools opened. About 2 million students attend Catholic schools, of which 328,000 plus are non-Catholic. This is a far cry from the 1960’s when there were over 5 million students attending almost 13,000 schools.
Why should this concern Catholics or Christians? Most would agree that Catholics schools have an enviable record. It’s a system that still produces more graduations and college degrees than public schools on a percentage basis. Many other statistics support the view that Catholic education can be fundamental to a thriving society.
These facts are important and reveal a growing problem. Mass attendance in the U.S. has steadily declined from over thirty percentage points among Catholic adults since the 1960’s (CARA). Next Sunday look around the church and see how few young people are attending mass. Remove the older parishioners and we get a glimpse of the future. There is a direct correlation between the health of Catholicism and the number of children that attend Catholic Schools. As parents and grandparents we should be concerned, because in the final analysis our most important legacy for our children has to be salvation. Are we going to be the generation that deprives our children and grandchildren the best chance at salvation by neglecting to raise them in the faith?
There is one diocese that appreciates the gravity of the problem and has taken steps to arrest this disappointing forecast. The Diocese of Wichita, Kansas made it their mission to “form each student into a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Every Parish committed themselves to funding a Catholic education for every active Catholic family, regardless of income.
The motivations for creating such an enterprise are worth noting. Though parents are the first and best educators of their children, Catholic schools help bring parents, teachers, and parishes together in cooperation for the benefit of all Catholic children. The diocese of Wichita states:
“Only in a Catholic school can Jesus Christ be taught daily in every subject and activity, experienced daily in prayer, celebrated daily in worship, witnessed daily by Catholic adults, and lived out daily in service.”
“A proper education must teach our youth about right and wrong, by infusing moral norms into daily living.”
“The purpose of a Catholic education is to help each student respond to God’s unique plan for them so that they can be converted to live their vocation for the glory of God in service to all humanity.”
The biggest problem facing Catholic schools is a lack of funds. Most schools subsist on a diet of parental payments, diocesan subsidies, penny pinching, and parish generosity. Many schools benefit from various state scholarships, generated through tax deduction programs. Such schemes are so prevalent that this is where bishops concentrate their political support and I would agree with them if it were not for the fact that the system is neither fair nor equal.
This question has been addressed by the Supreme Court, in 1925, with the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Name, where it was established that a parent has the right to choose the school of choice for their child. Again in 2002, with the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris it was established that it is constitutionally allowable for “funds” to be used for tuition at private schools. Whilst these cases establish milestone rights, they do so with tongue in cheek to satisfy the undercurrent of the secular majority who hate the diversion of public funds to private entities. Although this flies in the face of Freedom of Religion, there are few consequences when subsequent rules and regulations deny rights in specific circumstances that avoid a contest with the underlying law.
The current status for not funding private schools is nothing less than discriminatory and clearly stated in the Charter Schools Program: Section 5210(1)(E) actually states: “a public school that: is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution.”
This is not the first time that laws and rights have been constructed purely to serve the interests of some. One of the most onerous policies was the implementation of high property taxes on black homeowners in colored neighborhoods.
The use of the property tax was an underhanded means of “socking it to” the poor, as one public official in the city of Baltimore described it. It became a core element of modern tax policy during the 1960’s, and a significant contributor to the era’s “urban crisis.” As middle-class whites fled to the suburbs and erected structural barriers designed to ensure that all of the tax dollars would come with them, cities compensated for declining tax revenues through dramatically raising property tax rates in inner-city neighborhoods. A 1972 study on this and other so-called Ghetto Taxes, found that in Baltimore, properties in blighted neighborhoods carry 10 times the tax burdens of properties in upward transitional neighborhoods.
The question, therefore, of not allowing tax dollars to fund Catholic Schools bears no merit apart from exercising a bias against religion. Catholic schools are a desirable entity in society, which is shown even when parents have to pay for their children. There are currently 2,044 schools that have a waiting list for admission.
Charter schools, which are public schools granted greater flexibility in operation in return for increased accountability in performance, are rapidly gaining federal, state and public support. The National Catholic Education Association supports the creation of Charter Schools, but directs that the vision must include a choice for a full range of options including religious charter schools. “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which our governments in this Union rests excludes any power for the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction solely within a public school. The child is not the creature of the State.” (Justice McReynolds, Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the holy names of Jesus and Mary).
Surely it is the State that bears the responsibility to provide equal, fair and safe educational opportunities of the child. We too have a responsibility to ensure that there are a variety of options from which to choose. If nothing else, we have to become education activists for the sake of our children and grandchildren.
So why must it be a Catholic or Christian education? To answer this question we have to understand the foundation of philosophy, the world of metaphysics or as Aristotle explains because “we exist and have identity.” Thomas Aquinas went further and added “essence” to our identity, which allows us to define the nature of each individual. Aristotle recognized a source and Aquinas, building upon Augustine, knew the source, the creator, to be God.
So how do we assemble these parts and “bake the cake?” We combine all the ingredients of who we are as creatures of God with the realization that He made each one of us exactly according to his perfect plan and intention. Being confident and knowing ourselves will enable us to succeed to be the best we can be in this World – A Gift of God to Humanity – the epitome of a Catholic education. Depriving children an awareness of spirituality, as is prevalent in government schools, makes it almost impossible for them to address their “inner self,” leaving them at a developmental disadvantage before they enter society.
The most universally held view regarding salvation is not only the expectation of seeing and adoring God, but also, seeing once more and forever, our loved ones that have gone before us. By neglecting to support and encourage Catholic Education, will we deprive ourselves and our children and grandchildren that same opportunity?