Catholic Vote: Catholic Schools Have Much to Celebrate

By Greg Brock, CatholicVote, February 2, 2024

National Catholic Schools Week is a Reminder to Tell Congress to Pass the Educational Choice for Children Act

Closely linked to [the] right to education is the right of parents, of families, to choose according to their convictions the kind of education and the model of school which they wish for their children. Related as well is the no less sacred right of religious freedom. – Pope Saint John Paul II the Great

This final week of January 2024 is National Catholic Schools Week.  While there is much to celebrate for Catholic education, there is much more work to be done to ensure that all children have an equal opportunity for a quality education that respects their family’s faith and values.

The dedication of Catholic school leaders, teachers and staff during the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in comparatively positive student assessment results and an uptick in overall Catholic school enrollment nationwide. 

The growing embrace of parental choice in education both in state capitals and in the U.S. Congress also bodes well for families to afford to have their children educated in Catholic and other religious schools of choice.  

Catholic schools stood tall during the Covid-19 pandemic, as they resumed in-person learning many months on average before district public schools re-opened. Catholic schools also bucked the downward trend of lower student assessment outcomes in public schools from the devastating learning loss from prolonged school closures.

Indeed, Catholic schools have reached a turning point with renewed optimism after years of contraction. Though Catholic school enrollment overall declined for decades, trends are improving. The last two years in the wake of the Covid pandemic has seen an overall increase in national enrollment to nearly 1.7 million students.

From an academic standpoint, Catholic schools have performed impressively amid the Covid pandemic as compared to district public schools. In elementary and middle school reading and mathematics, Catholic school student results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2022 outperformed their public school peers in 4th and 8th grades. (The NAEP is administered every four years.)

Lincoln Snyder, president of the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), described the comparatively favorable Catholic school NAEP scores this way, “One of the reasons Catholic schools performed so well is that our teachers showed up for the kids. In every state, we were among the first to transition to distance learning, and after that brief time, also among the first to return students to a safe in-person environment.”

By putting students first, 90 percent of Catholic schools opened for in-person instruction for five days per week during the pandemic compared to 56 percent of public schools, according to the NCEA.

From a legislative standpoint, education freedom for families with school-age children is on the march in states across the country, and now in Congress, which will sustain more families on the financial margin to provide a Catholic education for their children. Since 2021, the number of states offering universal or near-universal eligibility for students to attend schools of choice went from zero to ten. Combined with other state program expansions, nearly one million students are now publicly supported in private schools, according to EdChoice.

In the U.S. Congress, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Representative Adrian Smith of Nebraska are lead sponsors of the Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA), which would generate up to $10 billion in scholarship funds for K-12 education for families across the 50 states. Scholarships would be generated by providing credits against federal individual and corporate taxes for charitable donations to not-for-profit scholarship funds. 

At this writing, more than 140 members of the House of Representatives and 30 senators support this legislation – the most ever for a school choice bill in Congress.  This strong level of support is a necessity for the bill to become a legislative priority to pass into law.

If enacted, the ECCA would enable up to two million or more students from low-income to middle-class households access scholarship funds to enroll in Catholic and other religious or independent schools, which would triple the current enrollment of private school students benefiting from government-supported education options. The ECCA would add to existing state programs providing school choice and fill enormous voids in nearly two dozen states without such opportunities, and with no prospect for any, including in New York, California, Michigan, and other states.

The ECCA contains the strongest possible protections for religious liberty and private school autonomy, while empowering parents to choose the best educational option for their children – especially one that respects their family’s faith and values.  CatholicVote has joined the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Education Partners, and many other Catholic and faith leaders in endorsing the ECCA.

As school leaders and teachers work to sustain academic success in Catholic schools, we must continue to urge state legislators and Members of Congress to expand religious and independent school opportunities for more students.

Catholic schools have a long and rich history of educating children of every income group, which has served not only the direct student beneficiaries, but the larger society.  With the new year of Congress in full swing, a renewed effort on expanding education freedom across the 50 states brings new hope and opportunity for more Americans to access Catholic and other religious schools for a brighter future for our children and our nation.

Read the full article by CatholicVote here.