Clarion Herald – 5/18/13 – English; 5/25/13 - Spanish
On Wednesday, a group of Catholic school administrators, parents and students went to the State Capitol in Baton Rouge to impress upon legislators the importance of the State Scholarship for Excellence program, which provides money for students to attend private and parochial schools. Why was this so important?
In terms of funding, we know the whole program is questionable at this point. The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism for the program unconstitutional. It said the program itself was constitutional but that the state needs to fund it differently. Gov. Jindal has publicly stated he wants to work with the legislators to find another way to fund the program.
Does the governor seem fairly confident he can get this funded as part of the state’s budget?
He’s going to work hard for that result and he feels confident, but there are several political hurdles to clear in order for the funding to become reality. Let me say that if the funding doesn’t come through, we suffer in two ways. First, there are many good children who have enjoyed and appreciated – or could appreciate – the benefits of an academically strong and spiritually enriching Catholic education who would then not have that opportunity. Second, it would mean a decrease of about 3,000 students in our schools, which means the potential closure of about eight or nine more Catholic schools.
What some people don’t realize is that the state actually saves money by having children come to our schools. That’s because the state pays whatever the Catholic school tuition rate is, which is far lower than the $8,000-plus fee that they have to pay to the public school system.
Why did the archdiocese have the rally?
We wanted to have a strong representation because we believe in the scholarship program that the governor has proposed. The program offers a chance for the child to have an excellent, faith-based education. The program also respects parental choice, which allows parents to freely choose where they want their child educated. Also, in some cases, the program helps break the cycle of poverty. I know there are many arguments on the part of public schools and other schools that say we don’t have a right to this program, but the fact is we pay taxes like everybody else. All of our tax money in the past has gone to public education and none of it has gone for Catholic school tuition. Essentially, our parents are paying double. They’re paying taxes for public education and tuition for Catholic education.
How has the school choice initiative impacted students?
Students have had an opportunity to get a quality education in a safe and caring environment that is faith-based and specifically Catholic. We know that some of the students who have come to us are not Catholic, but this is nevertheless an opportunity for us to care for them, educate them and help them know more about the Catholic Church and come to a deeper appreciation of Jesus.
Have you been happy with the students’ progress?
Yes. My understanding is the progress made by the students who have joined us in Catholic education has been significant. We have more than 2,500 state scholarship students in our Catholic schools, and, for the most part, their standardized testing scores have increased and they seem to have adjusted well. The principals and parents I speak to seem pleased and grateful for this opportunity.
Long-term, how is school choice doing across the U.S.?
School choice across the country is making some traction but it does not have the strength that we wish it did. That’s why our state program is so important. I am asking the people of the archdiocese to join me in prayer and by contacting their state representatives to support this program for the sake of our students.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.