| School affordability:
but still a long way to go
WASHINGTON — When educational leaders look at
ways to make Catholic schools more affordable, they are happy about some
of the positive steps that have been made but fully aware that there is
still a lot to do.
During a recent conference at The Catholic University of America, a group
of panelists focused particularly on the status of tuition tax credits
and how they have enabled students who would normally not be able to afford
Catholic schools to attend them.
Currently, there are 11 school voucher programs in the United States and
nine scholarship tax-credit programs. Some states have more than one program.
The school voucher programs in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma,
Wisconsin, Utah and the District of Columbia offer private school vouchers
to low-income students, students with special needs or children in failing
The scholarship tax-credit programs in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,
Iowa, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island also are primarily for students from
low-income families or those with special needs.
Tuition vouchers are funds awarded by a government agency to a low-income
family to spend at any school of their choice. Tuition tax credits generate
scholarships for Catholic schools by allowing individuals and businesses
to deduct a portion of their income taxes to donate to education. These
donations can go to public or private schools. Donations to public schools
typically help pay for after-school programs, school trips or supplies.
Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the practice of allowing Arizona
residents to take a tax credit for their donations to school tuition organizations.
During the 2008 fiscal year more than $54 million in scholarship money
was awarded to students through the tax credit program.
“We have made a good deal of progress in the past 15 years,”
said John Schilling, chief operating officer of the American Federation
for Children, a school choice advocacy group. In fact, he noted that “it’s
as good as it’s ever been” as far as choice initiatives.
But panel members were not about to rest on these laurels and almost all
of them at the conference pointed out that the successes were not easy
and certainly did not guarantee similar actions in other states.
To keep these programs going and see similar legislation passed, they
said, Catholic leaders need to garner a lot more support for tuition tax
credits from leaders of both parties, the general public and even the
wider Catholic community.
In a question-and-answer session, Michael Guerra, former National Catholic
Educational Association president, asked: “Why do we want tax credits?
Is it just to keep Catholic schools alive?”
In response to his own question, he said that approach “won’t
fly” and the real reason to make Catholic schools an option for
more students is “because they’re good for families and kids.”
Similarly, Frank Butler, president of Foundations and Donors Interested
in Catholic Activities, or FADICA, said: “We have to do a better
job of making our case that we contribute to the common good through our
What’s holding Catholics back
Butler asked what’s holding Catholics back from “a more robust
and unified effort to enlist the public’s support for more choice
in education” and speculated that Catholics tend to think locally
and look to their parish and diocese for initiative on schools. He also
said there has not been a lot of national leadership on this topic and
“in many ways we have ceded the issue of tax credits to libertarian
and conservative think tanks.”
He also said there has been a “hospice mentality” when it
comes to Catholic schools as a result of recent closings and wondered
if people lacked “confidence in the long-term survival of schools”
coupled with a “passive disposition among Catholic laity when it
comes to taking responsibility for the church’s mission.”
The Nov. 30 conference, organized by Catholic University’s Institute
for Policy Research & Catholic Studies and co-sponsored by the Catholic
Association of Latino Leaders in San Antonio, urged educational and state
Catholic conference leaders to essentially get back to basics: recognizing
the good that Catholic schools do and promoting that.
In luncheon remarks, Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl said he was not
just preaching to the choir but to the choir directors by pointing out
the positive aspects of Catholic schools, which he said not only provide
students with academic excellence but a moral foundation and hope for
They are a “gift for the whole community,” he added.
Mimi Schuttloffel, who chairs the education department at Catholic University,
also spoke of the benefits of Catholic education and said Catholic schools
still have an important role in today’s society in their tradition
of providing quality education to marginal groups and training future
She lamented that this country, unlike many others, does not support religious
schools and said Catholics as a whole do not support Catholic education
if their children do not attend a Catholic school or their parish doesn’t
sponsor a school.
“We have not been able to adequately sell Catholic education,”
she said, emphasizing that this needs to be done more aggressively.
To keep Catholic schools alive and a viable option for the poor, she said,
“We need leaders who get it, . . . who understand
our story matters.”