Go WichitaWILLIAM J. BENNETT
Save the Catholic schools.
A new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute — a smart, highly regarded education think tank — estimates that 300,000 students have been displaced due to Catholic-school closings since 1990, and that taxpayers have spent upwards of $20 billion to pay for public schooling for these students whose Catholic schools have vanished. Most of those kids are poor and needy, the very youngsters whose futures are most precarious and whose educational attainment is the focus of most school-reform efforts of the past quarter century. (“A Nation At Risk” appeared 25 years ago this month.) Far too many of them were forced to move from good Catholic schools to mediocre (or worse) public schools. If the trend continues, hundreds of thousands more will soon follow in their unhappy wake.
That’s bad for them and bad for America. I take it personally, too. As the product of a Catholic education and the father of two boys who attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through high school, this situation is particularly painful.
Today’s urban Catholic schools are a legacy of a time when immigrant Catholics lived in our cities and wanted their children to get a parochial education. Most of these families left for the suburbs in the 1960s and 70s. This posed a massive threat to many urban parishes — and their schools, which have been losing enrollment ever since. Yet time and again the Church renewed its commitment and strived to keep these schools open to serve the poor children who still lived nearby. And study after study shows that the schools have served these children well.
Now new immigrants fill our cities — including many Catholic Hispanics. But rising tuitions are putting parochial schools out of their reach. With almost no nuns or brothers left to work in these schools for free, Catholic schools must pay lay teachers and administrators decent salaries, making the schools dramatically more expensive.
Yet those expenses don’t have to be passed along in the form of higher tuition. Consider Wichita. There the archdiocese promulgated a simple principle: Catholic schooling would be free to all parishioners. To make the economics work, the bishop asked all Church members to tithe from their salaries, money that went largely into school operations. Parishioners responded willingly. Today, all Wichita Catholics can send their children to parochial school; tuition is no barrier.
William J. Bennett. "Go Wichita." National Review (April 23, 2008).
Reprinted with permission of the author, William J. Bennett.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Bill Bennett studied philosophy at Williams College (B.A.) and the University of Texas (Ph.D.) and earned a law degree from Harvard. He is the Washington Fellow of the Claremont Institute, & a CNN Contributor. Dr. Bennett is the host of a nationally broadcast radio show from 6:00-9:00 a.m. (EST): Bill Bennett's Morning in America.
During the 1980s, Dr. Bennett served as President Reagan's chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities (1981-1985) and Secretary of Education (1985-1988), and President Bush's "drug czar" (1989-1990).
Copyright © 2008 William J. Bennett
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