By Dr. Samuel Torres
We are advocates for our Catholic School families and children. As advocates, we must do everything in our power to protect their right and the right of future children to access Catholic Schools. Parents should be able to choose the school they believe is best for the development of their child in accordance with their values. Within this article I’d like to lay out some facts that should help us better understand the barriers that exist in accessing Catholic schools for many families. To stop discrimination on the basis of religion is certainly worthy of our time and attention.
Families who pay tuition in private schools are also paying federal and California taxes to educate students whose families choose public schools. Why is it that California should be able to utilize these funds for children attending public schools and not for children of the taxpayers attending a parochial school? If all Catholic school students attended public schools, there would not be room for them. If we examine this more closely, we realize that we are saving the California educational system 213,000 students they do not have to track or educate while we are allowing them to spend 2.3 billion tax dollars. We know the extra funds they have been given by Catholic parents are above and beyond what they need to educate the public school students.
Catholic school students have a 99 percent graduation rate and 90 percent matriculation rate to successfully enter and graduate from college. This is far above the same measures for public schools. How is it that they have significantly more funds, pay their teachers higher wages, and have facilities with many more resources than most Catholic schools and still have the unattainable graduation and college readiness numbers of private schools? When taking a deeper dive, we can easily see that this is not an equitable situation and does not truly reflect the values of all California parents, especially Catholic School parents. It is downright discriminatory.
Our call to action must require involvement. We must speak to legislators and educate ourselves on the efforts and allies of this topic. It is not enough to have Catholic schools filled with affluent families who can afford both taxes and private tuition, because the students who are missing can and will be some of the brightest and innovative minds that do not have access to our Catholic school classrooms. Our Catholic Schools have worked tirelessly to provide need-based scholarships, but they are limited and do not reach many marginalized and underserved families. The diversity of our classroom depends on allowing this access for all types of learners and backgrounds. We are not just learning labs for academics, we are nurturing and replicating real world environments.
Our future is rooted in examples such as the precedence set forth by the Espinosa v. Montana case. This case examined the state’s Constitution and parents right to educational funds for their children. Initially, the Espinosa parents were awarded the state funds until the state realized that they wanted to use the funds for a religious school. When we examine this at a deeper level, we realize that governments want to eliminate parent rights to provide their children with the culture and traditions associated with their faith practices. Even deeper we realize that these traditional practices and educational experiences establish values and provide the bedrock for moral development. I think we can all agree that we should embrace a call to action and make our voices heard that this should not continue. Let us agree to begin the discussion of promoting action to structure an equitable school choice and a tax credit program for our Catholic Schools.
Dr. Samuel Torres is Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Diocese of San Bernardino.