To the Editor:
The two May 7, 2008, letters to the editor responding to your April 16, 2008, article “Papal Visit Spurs Plea for ‘Saving’ Catholic Schools” missed the point of both the University of Notre Dame’s task force report on Catholic schools and the recent Thomas B. Fordham Institute report “Who Will Save America’s Urban Catholic Schools?” No doubt stinging from the April visit of Pope Benedict XVI and his full embrace of Catholic education, followed a week later by a White House summit convened by President Bush on inner-city faith-based private schools, public school lobbyists are quick to resort to the standard—and now expected—defense of the teachers’ unions.
There is not a single Catholic school in the nation whose purpose is to create more Roman Catholics. Non-Catholic enrollment in Catholic schools has increased 400 percent in recent decades, a testimony to the high-quality education available there. Plenty of urban Catholic schools are populated with a majority of non-Catholics. These schools perform an important civic function and contribute to the common good in ways that public schools routinely cannot.
But, to the point of taxpayer support for Catholic schools, let us simply say that the day dawns. With more than 2.3 million students enrolled in Catholic schools this year, Catholic parents in the United States are making a $20 billion investment—$20 billion is the approximate cost if all the children enrolled in Catholic schools were instead to attend their local public schools this year—in the education of the next generation of Americans. Catholic parents and thousands of others continue to pay twice: taxes for their local public schools, and tuition for the schools of their choice.
Legislators will soon have to decide: Provide a billion, or two or three, in tax credits or vouchers or other school choice initiatives, or find $20 billion to serve the influx of 2.3 million students into the public schools.
J. Michael Miller, once a Vatican diplomat and now an archbishop of Vancouver, remarked during a visit to U.S. Catholic universities that the United States is in the company of Mexico, China, North Korea, and Cuba in not providing some sort of public funding for private and religious schools. And so we come to the point of the Notre Dame report and the Fordham study: It is simply in the public interest to find some acceptable mechanisms to support a broad array of school choice initiatives.
Ronald J. Nuzzi
Alliance for Catholic Education Leadership Program
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Ind.
A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week as Supporting Choice Broadly Is in the Public Interest