The Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania are voicing their strong support for school voucher programs and educational tax credits in the state as legislators return to the capital for their fall session.
“The debate over school vouchers,” said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, “is a pivotal moment for education in Pennsylvania.”
“School choice is about more than education—it's also about opportunity, justice and parental rights,” he emphasized.
Archbishop Chaput made his remarks Oct. 4 at the annual Board of Governors meeting of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference in Harrisburg.
In a joint statement, the bishops asked legislators to back efforts to create a school voucher program and increase the state's Educational Improvement Tax Credit program.
The bishops called school choice “a defining social justice issue of our society,” and lamented the system currently in place which assigns students to a school based solely on geographic location.
“The current treatment of these children, particularly children from low-income families, is unjust and inequitable,” they said.
Some Catholic schools in the U.S. have seen a spike in enrollment this year as the school choice movement gains traction. As of August 2011, 18 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted policies that support school vouchers.
Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and Educational Research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told EWTN News on Aug. 30 that voucher programs have “gained momentum” due to parental as well as political support.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R–Ohio) backed Catholic education and school choice during the week of the State of the Union Address earlier this year. On Jan. 26, he announced the introduction of a bill that restored funding for school vouchers in Washington, D.C.
The Pennsylvania bishops called for similar legislative moves in their state, arguing that school choice “is not a public versus non-public school issue; it is a family and child issue.”
“Each family should have a full range of educational options within its grasp; this is a civil right for every parent.”
The bishops also outlined the financial benefits of voucher programs for the local government.
“With fewer students in public school, some of the financial pressure will be lessened on state and local budgets,” they said, noting that the state's 500 Catholic schools are “the largest provider of non-public education in the Commonwealth.”
“These schools educate both Catholics and non-Catholics in an academically excellent and nurturing environment,” the bishops added. “This essential service not only helps to create new generations of productive and engaged citizens, but also by saves over $4 billion tax dollars annually.”
“We have reached a critical moment in the debate over school choice,” they underscored. “Now is the time for the Pennsylvania legislature to ensure that ideal educational opportunities are accessible and available to all.”