CSF President on Bringing Greater Parental Choice to New York

Note: This blog post originally appeared on Invest in Education’s blog.

By CSF President Darla Romfo

Catholic Schools Week and National School Choice Week are both being celebrated this week. Sadly, at the 24 New York-area Catholic schools slated to close at the end of this school year, the mood is unlikely to be festive. Almost 5,000 children will have to find to a new school this September.

Catholic schools, along with other independent and faith-based private schools, have long been part of a rich tapestry of education in America, providing generations with an excellent foundation on which to build their lives and move up the ladder of success.

The list of luminaries who attended New York City Catholic schools includes Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor; public officials such as Fernando Ferrer, city Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo; entertainers such as Martin Scorsese, Regis Philbin, and Jennifer Lopez; and many more New Yorkers in every field. In a recent New York Times article, Justice Sotomayor referred to Catholic school as “a road of opportunity for kids with no other alternative.”

These two dozen Catholic schools are not closing because they are bad schools. In fact, most of them outperform their respective school districts in reading and mathematics scores. Catholic schools also boast significantly higher graduation rates than city public schools.

These 24 schools also are not closing because of a lack of demand from parents. The Children’s Scholarship Fund, which funds and manages almost 8,000 privately-funded scholarships in New York City, gets queries every day from parents who would like to send their children to Catholic or other private schools.

All parents regardless of their income are the first educators of their children and should be able to choose the school they believe best fits their child’s needs. Many parents who want to choose Catholic schools simply cannot afford to pay full tuition, and there is not enough private funding to assist parents to send their children to the right school for their child.

Ironically, Catholic schools spend less per student than city public schools and reduce the burden on taxpayers. The New York Post recently calculated that Catholic schools save New York City $2 billion a year (what it would cost to educate Catholic school students in city public schools). So what’s good for the families being served also benefits the community at large.

The education investment tax credit bill currently under consideration in Albany could present a solution. By offering a tax credit to companies and individuals making donations to organizations providing scholarships to private schools, the bill would allow more parents to choose a private school education and, in turn, provide a lifeline to Catholic and other private schools that struggle to remain beacons of opportunity and stabilizing forces in their neighborhoods.

This same legislation also would allow private individuals and companies to fund public school programs that have suffered under budget cuts in recent years.

Passing this bill in Albany would mean a “win-win” for New York schoolchildren and their parents, and benefit all New Yorkers.

That would be a true reason for celebration.

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