'Don't leave them behind': Bishops ask Black Caucus to remember Catholic schools

shutterstock 559303588 Catholic school students. | cheapbooks/Shutterstock

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is appealing to the Congressional Black Caucus to support families who opt to send their children to non-public schools, including Catholic schools. The letter comes as an estimated 500 Catholic schools are at risk of closing. 

The letter was addressed to Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), the chairman of the Congressional Black Congress, and was signed by Bishop Michael Barber, SJ of Oakland, Bishop Shelton J. Fabre of Houma-Thibodaux, and Bishop Joseph Perry, an auxiliary bishop of Chicago. 

Barber is the chairman of the USCCB's committee on Catholic education; Fabre leads the USCCB's  ad hoc committee against racism; and Perry is the head of the subcommittee on Afircan American Affairs.  

After noting that public schools have requested an additional $300 billion in the next coronavirus aid package, the bishops asked that "families of non-public schools be considered as part of the comprehensive needs of K12 education, since non-public students represent ten percent of the K12 student population."

The bishops requested that 10% of what is given to public schools "be directed specifically to the non-public school community to provide direct aid to families in the form of means-tested scholarships."

The bishops noted that Catholic schools in urban areas primarily serve minority students, and that these schools are at increased risk of closure due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. In the Archdiocese of New York, where 20 schools are not re-opening in the fall, 91% of students enrolled at inner-city Catholic schools are minorities. Nearly three out of every four students at inner-city Catholic schools in New York live at or below the federal poverty line.

These schools, they said, benefit their students and need to remain open.

"Catholic education has played a significant role in lifting many from poverty to a more hopeful future," they said, citing research indicating that Catholic schools "close the achievement gap in low-income neighborhoods."  

"The poorer and more at-risk a student is, the greater the relative achievement gains in Catholic schools," stated the bishops. "A black or Latino child is 42% more likely to graduate from high school and two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate from college if he or she attends a Catholic school."

"Black families attending Catholic schools are counting on you, as are families with children in public school," said the bishops.

"Please do not leave them behind just because they value the historical and time-tested benefit of our Catholic schools for their children."

Across the United States, there are 1.7 million children enrolled at over 6,000 Catholic schools. Minority students are 21.8% of the total enrollment, and about one out of five students at a Catholic school are not Catholic themselves.

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