are being asked to contribute to a special collection to help
build up an endowment to provide financial aid to families of
students in Catholic schools. Nearly 13,000 children, or 8.8% of
the statewide elementary and high school enrollment, attended
those schools during the 2004-05 academic year, according to
Delaware Department of Education. Data for 2005-06 is not yet
statement issued by the Diocese of Wilmington said that 467
families with a total of 808 children applied for financial aid
for this year. Of those, 630 children qualified for help, but,
because the endowment did not generate sufficient money, only
432 of the children are receiving aid and only between 50% and
75% of their families' calculated need will be provided.
being distributed is $520,000. It would take nearly three times
that much to satisfy the need, the statement said. Moreover, it
is obvious that more than 5% of the children attending Catholic
schools are in families which could make a case for needing
assistance, but, for whatever reasons, did not apply.
Who gets aid and how much is
determined by Private School Aid Service, a national company
which the diocese has hired to provide an objective evaluation
of applicants' financial need. The company said it has been in
business since 1975 and has about 4,000 private, parochial and
Christian schools for clients.
assessment, it said, is based on an assumption that "if parents
have chosen a non-public education for their children, they have
the obligation to finance that education to the best of their
ability." As with college financial aid, income and assets of
the family are considered along with such things as its size,
age of the parents, and the number of children attending
Nowadays, competition among education
providers is considered the key to improving the quality of
education provided. But without the ability of 'customers' to
choose among alternate providers, competition is, at best,
token. At the same time, if non-public schools are priced out of
the range of all but the most affluent, freedom of choice is no
longer there. The Catholic school system, in particular, has
historically served and been supported largely by middle-class
schools and the religious sisters who in the past staffed them
almost exclusively in the elementary grades and to a large
extent at the secondary level have been the object of some
mostly good-natured ribbing. Exaggerating what 'ster said makes
for good comedy, especially for those who have personally
experienced it. The classic of that genre, Do Patent Leather
Shoes Really Shine Up, is playing now at the Candlelight
Music Theater in Ardentown.
real world in and around Wilmington, parochial grade schools
were the boot camps for Salesianum, Archmere, St. Elizabeth and
Ursuline. Beyond that, many of the products of parochial
education aspired for Georgetown, Fordham and, up there at the
pinnacle, Notre Dame. If they didn't make it, it wasn't because
of lack of effort by the Sisters of St. Joseph, Benedictines,
Franciscans and Order of St. Ursula.
the sisters are gone now. The schools are staffed almost
entirely by lay persons -- 801 teachers and 191 others on the
instructional staffs in Delaware. With families to provide for
and lifestyles that are in no way comparable to those led by
members of the religious orders, personnel costs -- by far, the
largest factor in any school budget -- have escalated far beyond
what could have been imagined a generation or two ago.
Catholic community, there is an awareness that also has taken a
toll on the raison d'Ítre
parochial education. In a recently published pastoral letter,
Bishop Michael Saltarelli called for a renewal of faith teaching
"to form a new generation of leaders steeped in the mission and
ministry of the Catholic schools." The contribution of Catholic
school graduates to all areas of community life and service has
long been recognized.
endowment fund better able to support the need is hardly a
complete answer. It is impractical to suggest that the diocese
and its parishes will be able to fully subsidize the schools as
they once did. Two Catholic schools -- Christ Our King in north
Wilmington and Holy Spirit in Garfield Park -- did not reopen
this term. Others may be in jeopardy. On the other hand, a new
school, Christ the Teacher, opened a few years ago in the
Glasgow area, indicating a continuing desire to have Catholic
education provided in expanding suburbia.
officials declined Delaforum requests to discuss the status of
the schools and their future for this article.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the issue needs to be discussed
on the public policy level. Not only Catholic schools but also
other non-public schools have long been a significant part of
the education establishment in Delaware.
in five Delaware students attend them; the proportion is
somewhat higher in New Castle County. The Red Clay Consolidated
School District has the largest portion of school-age children
living within its geographic boundaries -- 31.5% -- not
attending its schools. Brandywine ranks second with 25.1%.
Still, the General Assembly all but ignores that significant
portion of its constituency when it deals with education. Most
public school officials approach it almost entirely as a
It is past
time for some rethinking. A vibrant alternative will not damage
public education. Having both systems strong and pushing for the
highest quality they are able to achieve will have a synergistic
effect to the benefit of the entire state and all its children.
Catholic and other faith-based schools, religion tends to shut
off the argument. Freedom of choice stops where separation of
church and state begins. A bit of ingenuity, however, should be
able to deal with an important issue without doing violence to
the Constitution or Bill of Rights.
celebrated Cleveland, Ohio, voucher case, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled that there was no violation in allowing low-income parents
to decide which form of education they desired for their
children. Allowing the vouchers to be spent in church-related
schools evened the proverbial playing field. Albeit split
five-to-four, the honorable justices ruled that nondiscimination
is still the law.
Surprisingly, no one has come forward to challenge Delaware's
charter school law by arguing the same line of judicial
reasoning. That law singles out education providers with
religious affiliation as the sole entities ineligible to seek a
charter. No matter that many of them have literally centuries of
experience in the field, they are shut out while commercial
newcomers seeking profits are welcome.
possibility is to emulate Canada where multiculturalism prevails
in allowing parents to designate to which school their education
tax dollars should go. A few years ago Quebec province gave up
direct financing of church-affiliated schools in favor of going
along with the system in the rest of the country. Several
European countries still provide direct financing to Catholic,
Lutheran and Orthodox schools.
going to that extent would be challengeable in this country and
could, indeed, harm public education serving the majority of the
population, an acceptable nondiscriminatory variation in a state
like Delaware would be to allow taxpayers with children enrolled
in alternative schools to take a personal income tax credit
equal to a portion of their school property tax or a fixed
amount calculated on the amount of their rent.
else, it's worth exploring.
You probably find it hard these days
to go to the mailbox and not find unsolicited pitches offering
amazing no-interest terms if you sign up for a credit card. The
card firms expect, of course, that the accounts will continue to
carry a balance past the no-interest period. The Dallas Morning
News provides a primer for anyone uncertain whether to sign up.
to read it.