Saying “all children deserve a quality education,” the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) is supportive of a federal proposal to expand parental choice for their children's schooling.

“We applaud the Trump Administration’s Education Freedom Scholarship proposal because all children, regardless of their parents’ income, deserve a quality education. No child should be forced to remain trapped in a failing public school,” said Dennis Poust, director of communications for the NYSCC, the legislative arm of the state’s bishops. “Access to scholarships levels the playing field, especially for children in our inner cities where the public school failure rates tend to be the highest. We would urge Catholics to tell their Senators and Members of Congress to support the Education Freedom Scholarship proposal, and to put our kids first, not the public school teachers’ unions.”

The right of parents "to exercise freedom of choice in education is firmly rooted in the teachings of our Catholic faith," two U.S. Catholic bishops added in response to the proposal.Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif., who is chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald of Philadelphia made the remarks about Education Freedom Scholarships, a bill proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and supported by the Trump administration.

"We applaud the goals of Education Freedom Scholarships and hope to one day see the opportunity for all families to have the freedom to select a school according to their conscience," the bishops said.

They quoted from a 2005 USCCB statement that reaffirmed the bishops' commitment to Catholic education in the U.S.: "Advocacy is not just the responsibility of parents and teachers, but of all members of the Catholic community. As the primary educators of their children, parents have the right to choose the school best suited for their children. The entire Catholic community should be encouraged to advocate for parental school choice and personal and corporate tax credits, which will help parents to fulfill their responsibility in educating their children."

In New York State, there is currently no education investment tax credit. Poust said that there has been progress on investment tax credits and tuition tax credits, as well as support among both Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly, but these bills were never brought up for a vote. Because of this more than 300 Catholic Schools have shuttered in the state over the last 30 years; 80 alone in just the last eight years, Poust added.

“As the cost of educating students has risen, the price that our schools must charge to families has put Catholic education out of reach for many. This is a tragedy, as our Catholic schools have produced so many leaders in business, government, the arts and every level of society, and have lifted so many out of poverty,” Poust said. “Here in New York, we have long fought for school choice initiatives in a variety of forms. Unfortunately, the tight grip of the public school teachers’ unions has managed to stifle these efforts, despite their popularity with many lawmakers of both parties and with the public, especially in communities of color.

”Some 30 states have enacted some kind of tuition assistance mechanism of one degree or another. Proposals have passed the state Senate many times in recent decades, when it was controlled by Republicans, only to be boiled up by the leadership in the Democrat-controlled Assembly at the behest of the unions. Now with both houses controlled overwhelmingly by Democrats, the prospects have become even slimmer, and there is no political will in the state legislature to enact any school choice initiative at this time.”

In his State of the Union address Feb. 4, President Donald Trump gave a shoutout to school choice by pointing out two of his guests in the House chamber -- Janiyah Davis, a fourth grade student from Philadelphia, and her mother, Stephanie.

Trump announced Janiyah would be getting a scholarship to attend the school of her choice and he urged support for the federal legislation on school choice. He criticized Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf for vetoing a measure last year that would have expanded a private school choice program in that state.

With Catholic News Service