Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined a coalition of more than 150 interfaith and civil society organizations calling on Congress to provide immediate federal aid to benefit low-income students in non-public schools. In recent weeks, more than 100 Catholic schools announced that they plan to close, and hundreds more are facing an uncertain future because of the economic losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland also is among the dioceses supporting the measure, according to Frank O’Linn, diocesan superintendent of schools.
Bishop Barber said the emergency aid is vital because the mission of Catholic schools is at stake. “Catholic education has been an integral part of the American experience and a means to lift many from poverty. That mission is imperiled because of the economic devastation facing many families across the country; as families lose income, they are unable to make the tuition payments that sustain our schools.”
Contributing to the crisis is the fact that Catholic parishes have not had regular Sunday Mass collections due to a dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and a two-month suspension of publicly celebrated Masses because of the pandemic. Parishes normally provide financial support to the schools, which are part of the educational ministry of the parishes, in order to keep the tuition rate within financial reach for all families. This financial assistance from the parish makes it possible for many lower-middle income families to choose Catholic school for their children.
The letter asks for Congress to designate emergency funding for direct scholarship aid to low-middle income private school families, and to enact a new federal tax credit for donations to state scholarship granting organizations.
Total enrollment in Catholic schools nationally for the current academic year is 1,737,297, across 6,183 schools. Racial minorities comprise 21.8% of total enrollment, and 19.1% of all students are non-Catholic.
Click here to read the full letter to Congress.