Issues for Catholic Voters (2012 edition) – Education
“The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable” (CCC 2221).
Most parents know that it’s their job to oversee the education of their children, but some mistakenly think it’s the responsibility of the government. That’s understandable, given the availability and easy access of public schools. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us, “As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them that corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise” (CCC 2229).
As public schools have become more secular in their curriculums, with some even hostile to the expression of religious views, parents have been forced to find alternatives that are “consonant with Catholic convictions.” This has led to a modest revival in diocesan and private Catholic education. It has also led many parents to enroll their children in private schools without religious affiliation or non-sectarian Christian schools. For those who cannot find or afford private schools, homeschooling has become the most viable option.
The problem of choosing a private school is that many Catholic parents cannot afford it, even at the reduced prices often available at parish schools. For this reason, some Catholic leaders have made a prudential judgment to support the idea of school choice.
Choice in education means that parents who qualify can receive an annual stipend – usually called a voucher — from the government for use at private schools. Some would argue, however, that the state should not provide financial support for those parents who choose to send their children to parochial schools. Their argument is based on the perceived threat of such contributions to the separation of Church and State.
Yet, if the voucher system is limited only to public schools and non-sectarian private schools, the majority of private schools will be left out of the mix. Furthermore, most non-sectarian private schools are well beyond the financial reach of parents, even those who receive government subsidies.
So, in essence, a voucher program that excludes parochial schools is really a public school program. For reasons already discussed, this is not much of a choice for those Catholic parents who are concerned with the direction of public education.
In 2009, the federally-funded voucher program in the District of Columbia was terminated by the Senate with support from the White House and U.S. Department of Education. Those senators who voted to end the voucher program argued it took away money from public schools. The $14 million program first passed by Congress in 2004 included more money for public schools in anticipation of pressure from the powerful public school teachers’ union, the NEA.
Overlooked by some in the April 2011 spending bill negotiations was the inclusion of the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act, championed by Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman, which had previously passed the House of Representatives on March 30, 2011. H.R. 471 reauthorizes the Washington D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program at $60 million per year for 5 years, which is over $15 million per year less than the program is currently receiving and revives the program which had been shelved by the Obama Administration.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long supported the use of vouchers, especially in metropolitan areas where public schools have a poor track record in serving ethnic minorities.
Parents—not the state—have the natural right to educate their children.
- Catholic parents have the right, rooted in religious liberty, to have their children educated in a curriculum consonant with Catholic values.
- Government should restructure its educational funding to give families a choice about the education they desire for their children.
By Deal Hudson, President of Catholic Advocate