The “unique value” of Catholic education in Philadelphia is being threatened by a shortage of resources, and Pennsylvania Catholics should encourage their legislators to create vouchers to sustain them, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says.
“We can honor Catholic Schools Week this year by actually doing something about the fiscal problems hurting our schools. We need to press our lawmakers, respectfully but vigorously, to pass school choice,” the archbishop wrote in his Jan. 26 Catholic Standard & Times column.
“If nothing else, the crisis of Philadelphia's Catholic schools is an unpleasant but finally very healthy wake up call. The bill for our failure to pass school choice over the past decade has come due. Now we're paying for it,” the archbishop said.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced the closure of four of its 17 Catholic high schools and 44 of its 156 regional or elementary schools. The action will displace as many as 24,000 students.
The archbishop praised the “long record of dedicated service” compiled by Catholic school teachers and administrators.
“Today, scores of our pastors make extraordinary commitments of parish funds to keep our schools open and excellent,” he continued.
But schools run on resources, he said, “not simply good will and heroic service.”
“The resources simply don't exist. Many of our parishes are financially strained. The archdiocese itself faces serious financial and organizational challenges that have been developing for many years and cannot be ignored.”
Vouchers, he said, give parents the power to choose the schools for their children. They make all schools more accountable, and would assist “many more families” than only the poor.
If approved, vouchers will free up Educational Improvement Tax Credit funds and other grant and scholarship monies for “many thousands of other school families.” They could provide “millions of dollars” of additional resources for many families, including Catholic school families.
Archbishop Chaput lamented the failure of vouchers in the Pennsylvania legislature in 2011, which he attributed to “too few people in the pews” listening.
“Very few Catholics called or wrote their state senators and representatives. Even fewer visited their offices to lobby as citizens,” the archbishop reported.
Though the legislation passed in the state Senate, it failed in the House.
“If we Philadelphia Catholics love our Catholic schools, and we obviously do, then the time to get active and focused is now,” Archbishop Chaput said.
He announced that he will be writing every state senator and representative in his archdiocese’s territory to ask them to support school vouchers.
“And I’ll continue doing it until vouchers pass.”
The archbishop encouraged Catholics, including his fellow bishops and pastors, to do the same.