Vouchers and Educational Equity

By Doerr, Edd | The Humanist, July-August 1997 | Go to article overview

Vouchers and Educational Equity


Doerr, Edd, The Humanist


In my last column, "Vouchers: The Heart of the Matter" (May/June 1997), I reviewed Joseph Claude Harris' book The Cost of Catbolic Parishes and Schools, which noted but did not explain the implosion of Catholic schools over the last thirty years. Harris did document, however, that whatever financial problems Catholic schools might have are due mainly to the fact that Catholics, though on average more affluent than the U.S. population overall, support their church and its institutions at about one-third the level that Protestants support theirs.

I concluded that, in campaigning for vouchers for nonpublic schools, Catholic bishops seem far more concerned about the 21 percent of Catholic children in parochial schools than the 79 percent who attend often underfunded or inequitably funded public schools." I made the same point in a letter published April 8, 1997, in the National Catholic Reporter, the leading lay-edited Catholic weekly.

On May 2, the NCR ran writer John Allen's important long article, "Inequity in Funding of Public Education Raises Justice Issues," in which Allen hammers home the point that

the institutional Catholic church

has signaled tacit consent to the

injustices of the public system.

While church leaders have

spoken aggressively to the needs

of Catholic schools, there has

been only discrete silence or, at

most, ambiguous statements of

general principles concerning the

way America's public schools provide

differing educational opportunities

based on class and race.

Allen quotes Notre Dame University Professor Jay Dolan: "Since public schools serve the vast majority of children, the failure of the church to speak out on their behalf should give all of us pause." He also agrees with John Dewey's remark,"What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy."

Allen laments the Supreme Court's refusal in 1973 to deal with the wide disparities in educational spending within states and notes that, although a number of state supreme courts have dealt with the issue,there is little to show for it. The problem, he explains, is that equalizing school spending among districts with out raising new money pits rich and poor school districts against each other, while leveling school spending upward runs into popular reluctance to raise taxes. For example, when New Jersey Governor Jim Florio valiantly raised taxes for education, he lost his bid for reelection to pro-voucher, anti-tax Christie Whitman, and the Democrats in the state legislature took a beating.

Per-student spending was higher in major cities in 1950 than in the suburbs, but now suburban per-student spending greatly exceeds that of both cities and rural areas. And, as Allen points out, "Race plays a significant role in allocation of educational resources."

"In the debate over the quality of public education America is prepared to offer its poor and minority children," Allen charges, the official leadership of the Catholic church has been missing in action"While the bishops in 1995 issued a vague statement on equitable financing of education," it seemed more oriented toward getting vouchers for private schools. …

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