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Title I Could Have Small Role in 'Saving' Catholic Schools


When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in Washington, his presence will put the spotlight on the plight of Catholic schools. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute put out "Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools?" It also notes that Catholic schools are more popular than the pope himself.

“At the very time when all of us are struggling with how to create new good schools in the inner city, we have good schools in the inner city that are closing down,” Fordham's Michael J. Petrilli tells my colleague Erik Robelen in this Education Week story.

Over at Swift & Changable, Charlie Barone gives a Harper's Index of private school participation in NCLB's Title I. The bottom line: Private school officials feel as if school districts are hoarding Title I dollars and services. The numbers tell a similar story.

Those same Catholic school leaders endorse President Bush's $300 million proposal to give private school choice to students in the lowest-performing schools. But the vouchers won't solve all of the schools' problems. As Fordham notes, parochial schools in Milwaukee and the District of Columbia are struggling despite the private school choice programs in those cities.

Increasing federal aid to Catholic schools through Title I or vouchers would help those schools. But, as the Fordham report concludes, the federal government alone can't "save" Catholic schools.


As a retired UCLA prof who has has spent much time in classrooms and done much research on public and Catholic schools, I think the best classrooms I have ever seen, except for some classrooms serving students from wealthy homes, are Catholic. The two biggest reasons why Catholic schools are disappearing have comparatively little to do with tax dollars. They are (a) that the general public has been misled by biased research (done largely by people slurping dollars at the public school trough) and (b) that many Catholic school leaders, rather than stressing dramatically superior Catholic school qualities, parrot the same misleading standards of educational "excellence" that have blighted public schools--mindless, ill-defined drivel about "inclusion," "multiculturism," and "detracking," for example. When, for heaven's sake, will Catholic school leaders wake up?

Catholic schools have done a great service to many children in high-poverty areas. If they were public schools, many would easily qualify for federal Title One funds.

Public schools who receive Title One funds must submit to NCLB accountability requirements. If Catholic school receive those funds, they should be required to submit their students to annual testing, meet teacher quality requirements, and meet AYP. If I were a Catholic school leader, I would never accept Title One funds along with the straightjacket mandates of NCLB.

If the feds give Catholic or other private schools Title One funds without strings attached, then it will be all the more obvious that NCLB is, ultimately, a privatization scheme.

I had a great number of friends attend Catholic schools in Philadelphia growing up and they were uniformly better schools than the public ones I attended.

I have many friends now who have their children attending Catholic schools in the Seattle suburb I now live in. I think they're pretty good schools, but probably not a whole lot better than the public schools where we live. (Full disclosure - the suburb in which we live has many of the wealthy households that Mr. Erickson references in his post.)

My belief is that my friends are sending their children to the parochial school because they want a Catholic education for their kids, not just a better education. I think this is great.

However, I don't think it's something we should subsidize with public money. In the Phildelphia case, the schools could choose to get public money by becoming charter schools. They would lose their Catholic identity, but remain (possibly) excellent schools. I think this is the tradeoff to get public money.

Parents should not have to choose to have their children receive religious instruction to attend publicly funded schools.

Rep. Ross Hunter
WA State Legislature

Currently, I am a public school superintendent who also happened to be in Catholic school administration for 20 years. Catholic schools are, indeed, some of the finest schools in the country. I believe that their greatest challenge is a clergy that does not want to embrace the costs of educating children as those costs skyrocket. Years ago many priests with schools in their parishes wore that as a badge of honor and a mission of the parish. Now most see schools as a mill stone around their necks and disagree with the concept that providing a faith-based K-8 or K-12 education is part of the church's mission.

I believe our country missed an opportunity throughout our history to fund the government mandated classes without funding the religious classes in faith based schools. The Canadian model has government support for their parochial schools and thereby creates a greater sense of competition - a natural motivation to offer the best programs possible in both public and private schools.

Let's face it - schools are schools, teachers are teachers and kids are kids. My experience is that we all do much the same work, and model our beliefs in no matter what venue we practice. We should look for ways to fund faith based schools that align with the spirit that the authors of the constitution intended.

Dave Sipka, Superintendent
Montague Area Public Schools

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Recent Comments

  • Dave Sipka, Superintendent Montague Area Pulic Schools: Currently, I am a public school superintendent who also happened read more
  • Ross Hunter: I had a great number of friends attend Catholic schools read more
  • Diann Christensen: Catholic schools have done a great service to many children read more
  • Don Erickson: As a retired UCLA prof who has has spent much read more



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