NCEA leader says school choice support can help Catholic parents

By Valerie Schmalz

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) — The Trump administration’s
apparent endorsement of parental school choice could present a “huge opportunity”
for Catholic school parents, the president of the National Catholic Educational
Association told a group of Catholic high school teachers in San Francisco.

could be a huge opportunity for parents wanting to choose the right school for
their children,” Thomas Burnford, NCEA president, told participants at the
Archdiocese of San Francisco’s annual high school teachers’ consortium Feb. 3.

your politics, the current administration proclaims some understanding or
belief in support of school choice,” Burnford said in his talk at
Archbishop Riordan High School. In his remarks, he did not mention President
Donald Trump directly, saying in later comments he did not want to politicize
the subject of parental choice.

speech was given four days before Betsy DeVos was confirmed by the Senate as
the nation’s education secretary following a tiebreaking vote by Vice
President Mike Pence in his capacity as president of the Senate. DeVos, former chairman of the American Federation for
Children, a school choice advocacy group, has long been an advocate of school
choice. She told the senators during her confirmation hearing: “Parents no
longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning fits the needs of
every child.”

he was running for president, Trump endorsed parental choice both in an
October letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference and on his campaign
website where he promised to “establish the national goal of providing
school choice to every one of the 11 million school-age children living in

Currently, at least 27 states have some form of parental school choice and although the
programs affect a relatively small percentage of children, Burnford said that
in areas with school choice programs, Catholic school enrollment tends to be stable
or on the rise.

U.S. bishops advocate tax credit and voucher programs that allow public
education funding to follow the child to private, parochial or public schools
and have made it one of their priorities for the current 115th Congress.

church has been very clear” that it is “parents who have the primary
and inalienable right to educate their children,” Burnford said, but to do
so, they “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools,” which he
said does not happen in most of the country.

said that choice is only real when the funding is made available for everybody
and follows the student to the school of their choice, which he said occurs in
other countries.

noted that tuition remains an obstacle for many parents to enroll their
children in Catholic schools.

2006, 20 percent of Catholic schools have closed, and while there are bright
spots, and innovations that are working such as the Cristo Rey work study high
schools, the situation is serious, Burnford said, noting that there has been a
27 percent decline in Catholic school enrollment since 2000. About 1.9 million of
the 55 million school-age children in the U.S. attend Catholic schools.

60 percent of school-age Catholic children are Latino, while just 3 percent
are in Catholic schools, Burnford said. That is “clearly a funding
issue,” he said.

NCEA president said the track record of Catholic schools in educating children
of every background is outstanding, pointing out that 99 percent of Catholic
high school students graduate and 86 percent attend four-year colleges. “A
child who is black or Latino is 42 percent more likely to graduate from high
school and two and a half times more likely to graduate from college if they
attend Catholic school,” he said.

stressed that Catholic schools “need a growth mindset in this day and age.”

is a matter of faith and knowing that God will deliver,” he said.

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is assistant editor of Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the Archdiocese of
San Francisco.

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