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February 20, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
News in Brief

School choice support can help Catholic parents

SAN FRANCISCO — The Trump administration's apparent endorsement of parental school choice could present a "huge opportunity" for Catholic school parents, the president of the National Catholic Educational Association told a group of Catholic high school teachers in San Francisco.

"This could be a huge opportunity for parents wanting to choose the right school for their children," Thomas Burnford, NCEA president, told participants at the Archdiocese of San Francisco's annual high school teachers' consortium Feb. 3.

"Whatever your politics, the current administration proclaims some understanding or belief in support of school choice," Burnford said in his talk at Archbishop Riordan High School. In his remarks, he did not mention President Donald Trump directly, saying in later comments he did not want to politicize the subject of parental choice.

His speech was given four days before Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate as the nation's education secretary following a tiebreaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate. DeVos, former chairman of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, has long been an advocate of school choice. She told the senators during her confirmation hearing: "Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of every child."

When he was running for president, Trump endorsed parental choice both in an October letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference and on his campaign website where he promised to "establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school-age children living in poverty."

Currently, at least 27 states have some form of parental school choice and although the programs affect a relatively small percentage of children, Burnford said that in areas with school choice programs, Catholic school enrollment tends to be stable or on the rise.

The U.S. bishops advocate tax credit and voucher programs that allow public education funding to follow the child to private, parochial or public schools and have made it one of their priorities for the current 115th Congress.

Since 2006, 20 percent of Catholic schools have closed, and while there are bright spots, and innovations that are working such as the Cristo Rey work study high schools, the situation is serious, Burnford said, noting that there has been a 27 percent decline in Catholic school enrollment since 2000. About 1.9 million of the 55 million school-age children in the U.S. attend Catholic schools.

About 60 percent of school-age Catholic children are Latino, while just 3 percent are in Catholic schools, Burnford said. That is "clearly a funding issue," he said.

Sisters on parade
Sisters of the Holy Family in New Orleans pose in an undated photo. As part of a celebration of the 175th anniversary, 20 members of the African-American congregation, members of the religious order were planning to ride down the city's St. Charles Avenue during a parade Feb. 19. The congregation was founded in pre-Civil War New Orleans by Mother Henriette Delille.

National prayer breakfast
Jordan's King Abdullah II, center, his wife, Queen Rania, and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend the the National Prayer Breakfast Feb. 2 in Washington. "America is a nation of believers," President Donald Trump said. "In towns across the land, we see what we so easily forget: The quality of our lives is not defined by our material success but by our spiritual success." The 65th annual breakfast was attended by 3,000 politicians, religious leaders and dignitaries.

Philippine police pray
Philippine police pray during a "Day of Prayer and Penance" Mass Jan. 31 in support of President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-illegal drugs campaign at a chapel in the police headquarters in Manila.

Supreme Court nominee
Judge Neil Gorsuch stands with his wife, Marie Louise, at the White House in Washington Jan. 31 as President Donald Trump announces his nomination of the jurist to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice. If confirmed, Gorsuch will fill the seat that has been empty since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February.

King's words resonate

HOUSTON — At a time when the nation is politically divided, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr's legacy of seeking peace between races has particular resonance. "I believe Dr. King's message of tolerance, human dignity and peace is just as meaningful and necessary today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s," said Deacon Leonard Lockett, vicar for Catholics of African descent for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. "We find ourselves at this hour in a nation of unrest and the wonderment and beauty of Dr. King's message is that it transcends time," the deacon said.

'Dead Man' opera

WASHINGTON — The statement "preaching to the choir" had double meaning Feb. 6 at the Washington National Cathedral where religious leaders spoke against the death penalty and members of the Washington National Opera sang arias from the "Dead Man Walking" opera. The discussion, interspersed with song, was meant to highlight the upcoming opera at Washington's Kennedy Center of Sister Helen Prejean's 1993 book of the same name telling the story of her role as spiritual adviser to an inmate on Louisiana's death row.

Finding home in schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A wave of demographic change is sweeping through the Catholic Church in the United States. According to projections, in 20 years, half of American Catholics will be Hispanic. While the number of Latino families is growing, the number of Hispanic students enrolled in Catholic schools hasn't kept pace. Of the 14.6 million school-age children in the United States, 8 million are Hispanic, Sister Mary Johanna Mellody, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, said. Of those 8 million, 93 percent were born in the United States and are American citizens, she added. But only 400,000 Latino students are enrolled in Catholic schools, she said. "We're totally losing them," Sister Mary Johanna said of the younger generation of Latinos who are drifting away from the Catholic faith of their families.

NY to close 5 schools

NEW YORK — Five Archdiocese of New York schools will close at the end of the academic year while another will be converted to prekindergarten education. Schools closing include St. Ann, Visitation and St. Mary schools in the Bronx, St. Gregory the Great School in Manhattan and St. Peter's Regional School in Liberty, about two hours north of the city, the archdiocese announced Feb. 6. Sts. Peter and Paul School in the Bronx will no longer offer elementary education and will begin prekindergarten classes in the fall, the archdiocese also said. The closings in New York City come as the archdiocese carries out its 2013 Making All Things New planning initiative. The archdiocese said that the schools were located at parishes where facilities, including churches, are used sporadically. "Despite the archdiocese's best efforts to maintain the operational and financial viability of these schools in light of the closure of their co-located parish, continuing to educate students in a school where a significant portion of the facility is unutilized has proven infeasible," the archdiocese said in a statement.

Policy won't affect Scouts

IRVING, Texas — The Boy Scouts of America's new policy to accept members based on their gender identity will have no impact on Scouting units sponsored by the Catholic Church, said the National Catholic Committee on Scouting. The Boy Scouts announced Jan. 30 that effective immediately, the Texas-based organization will determine membership eligibility for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on a youth's gender identity as indicated on the membership application. Previously, the policy based eligibility on the gender indicated on a youth's birth certificate. The change in policy "has no impact on the operation and program delivery of Scouting program(s) in Catholic-chartered units," said a Feb. 4 statement issued by the Catholic Scouting committee. "Scouting serves the Catholic Church through the charter concept, which is similar to a franchise," it said.

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