As Catholic educators, we have always known how important it is for children to be seen, known, and loved. Of course, in the age of COVID, this deep human need has greater urgency than ever, particularly as we enter the sixth month of quarantine, shutdown, social distancing, and isolation. That’s why, at a moment when 17 of the 20 largest public school districts in the country are unable to open for in-person instruction, teachers and leaders across our nine Partnership Schools–and in Catholic schools around the country–are finding creative ways to safely reopen schools.
This is particularly important because so many Catholic schools are serving our nation’s most vulnerable communities–those that have been most directly impacted by the economic and health fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. Indeed, as Representative Dan Lipinski of Illinois noted this week in the Chicago Tribune, “many of these schools, especially those run by Catholic and other faith-based institutions in cities such as Chicago, serve low-income and minority communities that have been heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Yet, in the debate over whether public funding should flow to private schools, too many make the mistake of thinking that all private schools serve the wealthy and the elite–a misrepresentation that could serve yet another blow to families served by the Catholic schools. The students that our schools serve are too often not seen amid this debate.
That’s why, if we are serious about helping our most vulnerable communities through this pandemic, it’s critical that we find ways to support and sustain children–which includes allowing public funding relief to be used to support private schools.
Without public assistance amid the pandemic and its economic aftermath, it is precisely those private schools who serve working- and middle-class families that are at most at risk of closure. And it is the communities they serve who will then face a third crisis–adding more educational disruption to the health and economic impacts of the virus. This additional crisis is directly impacting children now; as the New York Times notes, 150 Catholic schools have closed since the start of the pandemic. Few high-tuition, elite institutions are among them. Far from achieving an egalitarian end, limiting funding for private schools serving families of modest means will exacerbate the divide between educational haves and have-nots.
That’s why we need to expand choice nationwide. We need more bold action, like the legislation that was passed in North Carolina last week to expand the state’s Opportunity Scholarships. That program allows families with lower incomes to seek the same school options that families with greater financial resources have. As the Wall Street Journal reflects, that must have been welcome news for the 1,000 families already on a waiting list, who can now receive the funding that makes their school preference possible.
One of the root beliefs that many Partnership Schools share is the conviction that we are better together. Across the nation, Catholic schools are working in both new and long-standing ways to continue ensuring our children are seen, known, and loved. So it’s crucial that likewise, our nation comes together to ensure a thriving future for this critical sector.