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A Case for Catholic Education

The National Catholic Educational Association paints a bleak picture for Catholic education in America. There are currently only 6,568 Catholic schools remaining in the USA. During 2014 an additional 88 schools closed or consolidated, while only 27 new schools opened. About 2 million students attend Catholic schools, of which 328,000 plus are non-Catholic. This is a far cry from the 1960’s when there were over 5 million students attending almost 13,000 schools.

Why should this concern Catholics or Christians? Most would agree that Catholics schools have an enviable record. It’s a system that still produces more graduations and college degrees than public schools on a percentage basis. Many other statistics support the view that Catholic education can be fundamental to a thriving society.

These facts are important and reveal a growing problem. Mass attendance in the U.S. has steadily declined from over thirty percentage points among Catholic adults since the 1960’s (CARA). Next Sunday look around the church and see how few young people are attending mass. Remove the older parishioners and we get a glimpse of the future. There is a direct correlation between the health of Catholicism and the number of children that attend Catholic Schools. As parents and grandparents we should be concerned, because in the final analysis our most important legacy for our children has to be salvation. Are we going to be the generation that deprives our children and grandchildren the best chance at salvation by neglecting to raise them in the faith?

There is one diocese that appreciates the gravity of the problem and has taken steps to arrest this disappointing forecast. The Diocese of Wichita, Kansas made it their mission to “form each student into a disciple of Jesus Christ.” Every Parish committed themselves to funding a Catholic education for every active Catholic family, regardless of income.

The motivations for creating such an enterprise are worth noting. Though parents are the first and best educators of their children, Catholic schools help bring parents, teachers, and parishes together in cooperation for the benefit of all Catholic children. The diocese of Wichita states:

“Only in a Catholic school can Jesus Christ be taught daily in every subject and activity, experienced daily in prayer, celebrated daily in worship, witnessed daily by Catholic adults, and lived out daily in service.”

“A proper education must teach our youth about right and wrong, by infusing moral norms into daily living.”

“The purpose of a Catholic education is to help each student respond to God’s unique plan for them so that they can be converted to live their vocation for the glory of God in service to all humanity.”

The biggest problem facing Catholic schools is a lack of funds. Most schools subsist on a diet of parental payments, diocesan subsidies, penny pinching, and parish generosity. Many schools benefit from various state scholarships, generated through tax deduction programs. Such schemes are so prevalent that this is where bishops concentrate their political support and I would agree with them if it were not for the fact that the system is neither fair nor equal.

This question has been addressed by the Supreme Court, in 1925, with the case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Name, where it was established that a parent has the right to choose the school of choice for their child. Again in 2002, with the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris it was established that it is constitutionally allowable for “funds” to be used for tuition at private schools. Whilst these cases establish milestone rights, they do so with tongue in cheek to satisfy the undercurrent of the secular majority who hate the diversion of public funds to private entities. Although this flies in the face of Freedom of Religion, there are few consequences when subsequent rules and regulations deny rights in specific circumstances that avoid a contest with the underlying law.

The current status for not funding private schools is nothing less than discriminatory and clearly stated in the Charter Schools Program: Section 5210(1)(E) actually states: “a public school that: is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution.”

This is not the first time that laws and rights have been constructed purely to serve the interests of some. One of the most onerous policies was the implementation of high property taxes on black homeowners in colored neighborhoods.

The use of the property tax was an underhanded means of “socking it to” the poor, as one public official in the city of Baltimore described it. It became a core element of modern tax policy during the 1960’s, and a significant contributor to the era’s “urban crisis.” As middle-class whites fled to the suburbs and erected structural barriers designed to ensure that all of the tax dollars would come with them, cities compensated for declining tax revenues through dramatically raising property tax rates in inner-city neighborhoods. A 1972 study on this and other so-called Ghetto Taxes, found that in Baltimore, properties in blighted neighborhoods carry 10 times the tax burdens of properties in upward transitional neighborhoods.

The question, therefore, of not allowing tax dollars to fund Catholic Schools bears no merit apart from exercising a bias against religion. Catholic schools are a desirable entity in society, which is shown even when parents have to pay for their children. There are currently 2,044 schools that have a waiting list for admission.

Charter schools, which are public schools granted greater flexibility in operation in return for increased accountability in performance, are rapidly gaining federal, state and public support. The National Catholic Education Association supports the creation of Charter Schools, but directs that the vision must include a choice for a full range of options including religious charter schools. “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which our governments in this Union rests excludes any power for the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction solely within a public school. The child is not the creature of the State.” (Justice McReynolds, Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the holy names of Jesus and Mary).

Surely it is the State that bears the responsibility to provide equal, fair and safe educational opportunities of the child. We too have a responsibility to ensure that there are a variety of options from which to choose. If nothing else, we have to become education activists for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

So why must it be a Catholic or Christian education? To answer this question we have to understand the foundation of philosophy, the world of metaphysics or as Aristotle explains because “we exist and have identity.” Thomas Aquinas went further and added “essence” to our identity, which allows us to define the nature of each individual. Aristotle recognized a source and Aquinas, building upon Augustine, knew the source, the creator, to be God.

So how do we assemble these parts and “bake the cake?” We combine all the ingredients of who we are as creatures of God with the realization that He made each one of us exactly according to his perfect plan and intention. Being confident and knowing ourselves will enable us to succeed to be the best we can be in this World – A Gift of God to Humanity – the epitome of a Catholic education. Depriving children an awareness of spirituality, as is prevalent in government schools, makes it almost impossible for them to address their “inner self,” leaving them at a developmental disadvantage before they enter society.

The most universally held view regarding salvation is not only the expectation of seeing and adoring God, but also, seeing once more and forever, our loved ones that have gone before us. By neglecting to support and encourage Catholic Education, will we deprive ourselves and our children and grandchildren that same opportunity?


Randal is a retired Aviator and Real Estate Executive that now lives with his bride, close to their children and grandchildren, in Sunny Florida. Randal is an author: "Caribbean Flite Guide," and "A Day in the Life of a Pilot," who currently writes a Catholic activist blog - randalagostini.com.

  • Pax

    This article , while interesting, I think in many ways underlines exactly what is wrong with catholic schools. Catholic schools must , first and foremost be CATHOLIC, they are a ministry of the church and should provide a place for the poor to receive a better education then they would in a public school. Also, they should not be bound to/ tied to / or regulated by the secular state and however has the purse strings, certainly has control!
    More over, it is irrelevant, what kind of grades students get , what there drop out rate is, etc, if the school is not first and foremost focused on catholic mission. On teaching children to attend mass, and to draw closer to Christ.
    A better policy would be to allow parents to , opt out, of taxes equal to an amount of money the state spends per student and then let them do what they want ( homeschool , private school etc) with the money. Of coarse the argument against that is that the government knows what’s better for us then we do and when everyone works together ‘funds’ are used more efficiently.

    • TK

      I think the writer presumes that the school is faithfully Catholic, so it doesn’t need to be stated. The issue isnt addressed, much less underlined. Also, with your proposed system what’s to stop parents from letting their kids watch TV all day and using the education money to buy crystal meth?

      The affordability if Catholic education is actually an important point in the article. Did you miss the discussion about the Diocese of Wichita?

      I think it’s a well-written, well-reasoned article in support of Catholic education. Perfectly timed with the beginning of Catholic schools week!

      • Randal Agostini

        I agree that Wichita is an example for us all – they clearly see the problem and sacrifice to achieve their goals. If all Catholics viewed the necessity of a Catholic education for their children, then there would not be laws, rules and regulations denying us the right to use our taxes for that purpose. Obviously we should all pay taxes, but those taxes would be directed to the school of our choice.

        • Pax

          unfortunately I’m not convinced the first leads to the second. Presumably in the past there was a higher percentage of Catholics to whom catholic education was important, and we are were we are. The current reality is that many ‘Catholics’ undermine the catholicity of our schools. There is for example a nun in my area ( greater Nashville ) who was attacked in an internet campaign led by parents and students of a catholic school after presenting the catholic teaching on homosexuality.
          So I’m not sure how many of those who are catholic in name are catholic in belief and that pressure is one of the things leading to the downfall of catholic education in America. What the school, should have done, and did not, was to tell the parents and students that the nun had faithfully taught the truth and if they didn’t like I they could take a hike, that they further needed to stop protesting on social media or face expulsion.

          • Randal Agostini

            There are many reasons why there are fewer Catholic schools, but disenchantment is not high on the list . If it was, there would not be a high percentage of children on school waiting lists. The number one reason is finance – parents not having the ability to pay for a Catholic Education, especially middle income parents who do not want to pay twice. It is up to Catholics to unify around School Vouchers or to have Faith restrictions struck off the Charter School regulations.

      • Pax

        as far as what will stop people from homeschooling and smoking crack. Presumably the same thing as does so now. Do you really think it is the responsibility of the state to take your money and allocate it to ensure you use it wisely or correctly? I prefer the state not be a babysitter. I didn’t talk about giving anybody any money, just not taking money they had already earned.
        In most states if you are homeschooling there are a series of requirements that need to be met and failure to meet them will kick in the truancy laws and get you a visit from child protective services.

      • Pax

        I would agree the article is well written and in holding up a particularly faithful catholic school there was a good example shown. However, I think the author made the mistake of suggesting that metrics like, grades , drop out rates ,etc.. were an important measure of a catholic school.
        Some much better metrics would be. What percentage of your students are still catholic at 20/ 30/ 50. What percentage of your students who were not catholic when they started are Catholics at 20/40/50. How about have all your teaches vowed to teach only what is in line with catholic orthodoxy. Does your faculty live their faith? Do they all regularly attend mass and pray for their students. Do they all reject homosexual marriage, abortion, birth control and all the other ways of Satan every catholic vows to reject every Easter when they renew their baptismal promises?
        Also, the existence of the school, should be predicated on donations and affordability of education. There are some schools that do that well, others not so well. I live in a city with multiple catholic schools have better than average income , but couldn’t even begin to consider paying the tuition at those schools because they are so costly.
        My suggestion is two fold. If you want to improve catholic education , you do need to hold up examples of faithful schools like the one in the article. However, no money, no grant, nothing should be allowed to interfere with them be decidedly catholic. If they are watered down and secularized, why would anyone bother to pay a premium for them.
        Secondly the schools should exist as mission of the parish and be supported by the parish in such a way the tuition cost are kept to a minimum , they should be affordable or even freely available to any member of the parish , and as many poor from the community as can be made to work.
        Catholic schools are and should be charitable mission work.