More than 600 Catholic leaders joined a conference call with President Trump recently, making the case that Catholic schools and nonprofits need financial assistance and praising Mr. Trump for his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic Schools Superintendent Dr. Vince Cascone attended the call.
Among the leaders on the April 25 call were Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York (in photo above), Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with many Catholic school superintendents and nonprofit leaders.
“I thought the call was great,” Dr. Cascone said. The bishops and others were sharing a lot of news about our schools and discussing how government can support us.”
The Catholic leaders thanked the President and the administration for extending federal aid through the CARES Act to religious schools and nonprofits. The aid has helped stabilize some church staff and teaching positions for the next several weeks.
Service to low-income students and communities
President Trump thanked the Catholic school leaders for the work they’re doing in distance learning with 1.7 million students in U.S. Catholic schools. He acknowledged the great benefits of Catholic schools, especially in service to low-income students, often in disadvantaged communities, through scholarships like those that CEF offers.
On the call, Cardinal Dolan of New York thanked the president for including religious schools among those eligible for the recent stimulus funding packages.
“This is not just a Catholic cause, it’s a parental rights cause,” the Cardinal explained. “It’s an educational justice issue, a civil rights issue for kids.”
Other clergy echoed that sentiment, and expressed deep concern that many families experiencing the loss of jobs and health concerns may not be able to enroll their children in Catholic schools. This would not only be devastating for these schools and communities, but it would place an untenable burden on public schools.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, pointed out that Catholic schools educate for less than half the cost of the government public schools, saving American taxpayers $24 billion per year.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented threat of closures of Catholic schools,” explained Cardinal O’Malley. “No institution in the country is as successful in moving children from poverty to middle-class as Catholic schools.” Several others on the call agreed, while pointing out the consistently excellent academic outcomes of Catholic school students and research that shows that a religious upbringing is linked to positive outcomes in adult years.
Cardinal Dolan agreed. “We’re really scared about September,” he told the president. “There’s a sense of urgency about this…our parents will have more difficulty and our there’s a threat that many schools could close,” he explained. “We need a way to help parents…we especially need help with tuition assistance scholarships for our kids.”
Superintendent Paul Escala of Los Angeles, who oversees the largest Catholic school district in the U.S., has seen a 55% drop in tuition payments during the crisis. “That’s a clear sign of stress in families,” he says. The school population in his Archdiocese is 78% students of color and more than 60% in the urban core.
A commitment to Catholic schools from the administration
“Catholic schools are integral to the U.S. education infrastructure,” explained Archbishop Gomez. “We are an important part of essential services, too,” he said, noting his schools have distributed 300,000 meals during the pandemic. He went on to thank the president for his commitment to Catholic schools, because they provide students with academic opportunity, or as he calls it, “a chance to realize the American dream.”
The president pledged continuing support for Catholic schools. The cardinals and other religious leaders say they are being hard hit as fewer people are able to give to the church amid job losses and other economic turmoil. They thanked the president for his leadership on pro-life and religious liberty issues, and for his presence at this year’s March for Life celebration in Washington, D.C.
“More will be coming,” said the president, acknowledging that federal stimulus funding is approaching $6 trillion.
Improvements in tax policy and direct aid to families
Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., of Oakland, California, who leads the USCCB Committee on Education, asked the President for two specific things. The first was tax policy improvements, such as the dollar-for-dollar tax credit scholarships outlined in the administration’s proposed Education Freedom Scholarships, as well as expansion of state 529 education savings programs.
“We believe families are the primary educators of their children,” explained Bishop Barber. “We want parents to be able to choose the best school for their children.”
The bishop also asked the President and his administration to consider direct aid to low-income and middle-income families. “This could be in the form of micro grants – not to schools, but directly to families in need. We don’t want to be a burden on public schools,” Bishop Barber noted.
In Kansas, state revenue is estimated to fall short by about $1.2 billion this year. If just 30% of private school students migrated to public schools next school year, it would cost the state an additional $138 million. Catholic school students make up the vast majority of private school students in the state of Kansas.
Superintendent Dr. Cascone acknowledged that school and curriculum delivery may look different next fall, but reported that enrollment here is likely stronger than in larger cities, thanks in part to the emergency funding help of CEF. “We’re going to be prepared for all possibilities,” he said.