Follow-Up to the Bishops' Document "On Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium"

Article excerpt

Throughout the country, dioceses and archdioceses are considering new ways to sustain and energize Catholic education

Ever since the American bishops issued their 2005 statement on the church's commitment to Catholic elementary and secondary schools, arch/dioceses, colleges, universities and others across the United States have been searching actively for answers to the problems articulated by the bishops. During the past two years, gatherings have taken place at the local, regional and national levels to address ways of making Catholic schools accessible, affordable and available. Although many efforts to strengthen Catholic schools already were underway before the statement was issued, an opportunity was presented to reexamine those efforts and to develop new strategies for the benefit of Catholic schools.

What follows is a general overview of the activities and strategies reported during the 2007 CACE Conversations at the NCEA annual convention in Baltimore, Maryland, and during regional conferences held in New England and Illinois. Additional information is included from some diocesan gatherings and responses to USCCB surveys sent to all arch /dioceses. A more in-depth publication of reported results was distributed to all bishops in preparation for their November meeting. Copies of the publication are available from NCEA (visit the online store at www.ncea.org).

Teaching Mission

"Our vision is clear: Our Catholic schools are a vital part of the teaching mission of the church," said the bishops in 2005. Catholic schools exist to provide an excellent academic education rooted in the authentic teaching of the Catholic faith. Arch/dioceses across the nation are strengthening the teaching of religion and the Catholic culture within schools by providing programs of certification of religion teachers, developing a strong curriculum, using appropriate textbooks and teaching materials, providing professional development programs and using student assessment tools.

In the Diocese of Fresno, for example, all full-time teachers and administrators in Catholic elementary and secondary schools are required to obtain a catechist certificate within four years of employment. Some arch/dioceses work closely with Catholic colleges and universities to strengthen religious education programs. Others make use of such programs as NCEA's Enhancing Catholic School Identity Programs to strengthen the role of principals as spiritual leaders of their schools.

As important as a strong Catholic identity and instructional program is to a school, equally essential is an excellent academic program for students. Many Catholic schools benefit from state and regional accreditation programs to ensure they are providing quality academic programs. Catholic schools have a well-earned reputation for strong academic programs that prepare students for further study and successful careers, particularly students from inner-city and rural areas.

In the Political Arena

Constitutional battles were fought and won during the past century over the subject of compulsory public education and the right of parents to have educational choice for their children. Efforts continue to support the rights of parents for educational choice. In addition, advocacy to provide public funding has resulted in tax credit programs, vouchers, support for special-needs education, textbooks, transportation and other services for the benefit of Catholic school children. In the Diocese of Phoenix, school officials work with the public school districts to provide the necessary evaluation and assessments to determine how best to meet the needs of special students. In addition, a voucher bill assists specialneeds students to attend the private school of the parents' choice.

Political lobbying has been successful in Pennsylvania, where the legislature passed and the governor approved the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program to expand scholarships based on need. …