The National Catholic Review
Alma E. Miller was 102 years old when she died in 1994. For 78 of those years she had been a member of the religious congregation called the Society of the Sacred Heart. During much of that time, she was the mistress of studies, that is to say, the academic dean, in one or other of the schools for girls that her congregation sponsored. Her own high school years, she once remarked, had prepared her for this position by putting her through a stiff curriculum. She had been fortunate, she said, in having attended Hunter College High School in New York City, a selective public school attached to one of the city’s public colleges. In Sister Alma’s day, both the school and the college enrolled women only, and their academic programs were not permissive. The teachers were superb, Sister Alma said, and all the high school students were required to take four years each of Latin, a modern language and history, along with three years of math.

This was not only a case in which firsthand experiences of both public and private education came happily together in the life and work of one person. It also points up the central fact about American schooling. For the past two centuries, education in the United States has involved two distinct but complementary systems, the public and the nonpublic. Particularly at the elementary and secondary levels, the schools in both these systems have been schools of the people. They have not merely coexisted; they have been partners in educating the rising generations.

What’s more, the smaller partner has sometimes been more effective. For example, ever since the end of the Second World War, Catholic parochial schools in the big cities have been praised for doing a better job than their neighboring public counterparts. A young man in Spanish Harlem told a reporter in 1964 that he had reached sixth grade in a New York City public school without being able to read. But when I was in seventh grade, he added, I went to a Catholic school for a year. Man, that school cared about me and about everybody, and they wanted to teach and they wanted me to learn.

In one crucial aspect, however, this partnership has been curiously unbalanced. Although both systems serve the general welfare, only the public schools are supported by public funds. Even as recently as 50 years ago, it was taken for granted that nonpublic schools, particularly if they were church-affiliated, enjoy a twofold immunityimmunity from suppression and immunity from substantial public aid.

This is not a conclusion dictated either by the ideals of a secular democracy or the principle of the separation of church and state. After all, England, Scotland, Canada, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia are quite comfortable in providing nonpublic schools, including religious ones, with major financial support.

In the mid-19th century, it was widely assumed that the public school system was satisfactorily, if nondenominationally, Protestant. The New Englander, a Congregationalist quarterly founded at Yale, remarked expansively in 1848: We owe our salvation to our public schools. In the summer of 2006 the American people are more religiously and ideologically diverse than ever, so the question of the relationship of nonpublic schools to public support can no longer be defined in the terms of New England Congregationalism.

The majority of these private schools are church-related, whether they be Catholic parish schools or the Christian schools established by evangelicals or the flourishing Yeshivas in New York City’s Brooklyn. They all take reading, writing and arithmetic seriously. They also take religion seriously, and many families want that for their childrenan education in which both religious and secular maturity is nourished.

Rethinking the question of nonpublic schools and public aid must take place at the level of the 50 states, where most of the obstacles are. Campaigns for such measures as vouchers and tuition tax credits must work for changes in state constitutions that prohibit using tax monies for private schools. Such aid would be a good investment for a state because nonpublic schools are relatively inexpensive. The average public school cost per pupil in 2005-6 was $8,019, and probably twice that in wealthy suburbs. The average cost per pupil in Catholic elementary schools is $4,268. The average tuition in these schools is $2,607. The difference is made up from church resources and fund-raising drives and has been estimated as amounting to a $19.4 billion annual contribution to the common good.

It is politically certain that nonpublic schools are not going to receive full public financial support. But in the United States of 2006, it is time to put a new principle in place. Nonpublic schools may not have a right to equal aid, but they do have an equal right to some aid.

Comments

Phyllis Townley | 9/22/2006 - 6:28pm
How happy I was to see your reference to Alma Miller in the editorial. It was a privilege to be both her student (at Noroton Convent of the Sacred Heart), and a dear friend with whom I corresponded weekly throughout her life. Mother Miller demanded and expected the best from us. In addition to receiving a marvellous education I was given a love of learning which I have never lost. Her enthusiasm for knowledge was contagious. After 50 years I am still taking courses, reading and writing. I know that would please her.

Rev. James G. Fanelli | 10/11/2006 - 2:30pm
The editorial in the September 18 issue of America, “The People’s Schools” had a very unsatisfactory ending. It states that if it is “politically certain that nonpublic schools are not going to receive full public financial support, it is time to put a new principle in place.” The principle? The weak affirmation that “nonpublic schools may not have a right to equal aid, but they have an equal right to some aid.”

Why this timid position? There are few more fundamental rights than the right of parents to direct the education of their children, as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in its 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

In that case, the Court unanimously declared that the Oregon law which required children to attend public schools was unconstitutional. In doing so, the Court stated that “the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

Yet in practice the exercise of that right has been and is being made impossible because of the financial burdens placed upon parents. Hundreds of thousands of children are, in effect, being forced to attend public schools. Hundreds of Catholic and other schools are having to close their doors, despite the heroic efforts of parishes and dioceses to provide sufficient funding. The rights of parents are effectively being denied by court decisions and public policies which prevent any effective way of providing justice for parents and students. In the face of this injustice, there should be a vigorous, continuing effort to change public opinion and the “political certainties” of the day. The supporters of equal rights did not give up their efforts to overcome racial segregation in schools. They were not satisfied with partial success. They persevered for years, despite many setbacks. Ultimately they succeeded.

The rights of parents and the well-being of our society demand our courage, perseverance and organized advocacy on behalf of parental rights in education and the just treatment of all children.

Rather than weakly acquiesce in continued injustice by being content with a right to some aid, we need a more vigorous call for increased efforts, particularly at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are coming to recognize the importance of educational choice and embracing alternative forms of education.

One would hope America, which has in the past spoken strongly on behalf of parental rights, would continue to do so, and forcefully urge more organized efforts by the Catholic school community and others to obtain not partial, but full justice.

William H. Slavick | 9/16/2006 - 1:23am
"A Fair Share"

Dear Editor:

"The People's Choice" (9/18) nicely raises anew the issue of state funding for nonstate schools which, in the Know-Nothing era, the Protestant establishment effectively foreclosed when it collapsed tax-funded denominational schools (where the Founding Fathers' children were educated) into the nominally Protestant public schools --in large part in order to avoid funding Catholic schools. The secular establishment has continued that foreclosure since President Kennedy's 1961 proposal of federal aid to state schools only raised a cry for fairness.

There was a moment, just before school desegregation served to cast a doubt on motives, when it appeared there might be real progress in recognition that parents' constitutional right to determine the schooling of their children was increasingly foreclosed by rising tuition costs in denying them a fair share of education taxes for their childrens' education--a denial unique in advanced countries.

Citizens for Educational Freedom, founded in 1960 (I was on its board), quickly grew to 75,000 members. In the 1962 elections, Frank Brown's effort in two of Mayor Daley's safe Chicago Congressional districts and CEF's in John Brademas's Indiana district sent a message that federal aid must include nonstate students, a message that Kennedy received and, subsequently, Lyndon Johnson's legislation respected.

Soon CEF was close to state legislature majorities in efforts to repeal Blaine amendments. CEF captured a New York constitutional convention but was foiled at the new constitution's ratification by the NYEA and ACLU.

CEF's "fair share for every child" meant funding for secular subjects and recognized the state's right to set standards and require teacher accreditation. Funds, determined by simple cost accounting, could go to the school, but CEF preferred vouchers, which helped surmount the argument of those who would not support a church; the aid was to the child, for his or her education, like the G.I. Bill, not a grant to an institution.

Curiously, even though the Supreme Court has moved in that direction, the claim to a constitutional right to a fair share is now largely ignored in favor of the irrefutable argument that you cannot require that parents keep their child in a state school where he or she is not being educated or else lose funding. The counter argument that kids do no better in nonstate schools, as if "better" is the only justification for funding a constitutional freedom, has, unfortunately triggered CEF's and others' focus on state school failings.

William H. Slavick

Portland, ME

Steve Pable | 11/28/2006 - 3:43pm
To the editorial staff at America,

I sincerely enjoy your magazine, even though I find myself behind in my reading right now. I've been a subscriber for almost 3 years now, but in my limited experience, I have yet to find any substantial content about religious education in your annual "Religious Education Issue" (9/18/06). If memory serves, there have been 2 editorials on Catholic schools in these issues, and an article on the role of the Da Vinci Code in adult education.

I am exceedingly troubled by this, because I count on America to be "the magazine for thinking Catholics, and for those who care what Catholics think." Evidently, not too many Catholics are thinking about religious education. As the individual responsible for this ministry in a good-size Midwestern parish, I am hurt by the lack of attention accorded to this vital element of the Church's mission. It only serves to reinforce the perception by those in my field that Religious Education/Faith Formation is not a priority for those in Church leadership.

Surely the recent promulgation of the National Directory for Catechesis, or Co-Workers in the Vineyard, or the US Catholic Catechism for Adults, would warrant some coverage in your publication. Please prove me wrong in my assumption that this topic is not on the Catholic radar in the United States. If it would help, I'm sure I could recruit a capable author to pen a really fine article or two on the subject.

Yours in Christ, Steve Pable Neenah, WI

Phyllis Townley | 9/22/2006 - 6:28pm
How happy I was to see your reference to Alma Miller in the editorial. It was a privilege to be both her student (at Noroton Convent of the Sacred Heart), and a dear friend with whom I corresponded weekly throughout her life. Mother Miller demanded and expected the best from us. In addition to receiving a marvellous education I was given a love of learning which I have never lost. Her enthusiasm for knowledge was contagious. After 50 years I am still taking courses, reading and writing. I know that would please her.

Rev. James G. Fanelli | 10/11/2006 - 2:30pm
The editorial in the September 18 issue of America, “The People’s Schools” had a very unsatisfactory ending. It states that if it is “politically certain that nonpublic schools are not going to receive full public financial support, it is time to put a new principle in place.” The principle? The weak affirmation that “nonpublic schools may not have a right to equal aid, but they have an equal right to some aid.”

Why this timid position? There are few more fundamental rights than the right of parents to direct the education of their children, as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in its 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

In that case, the Court unanimously declared that the Oregon law which required children to attend public schools was unconstitutional. In doing so, the Court stated that “the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”

Yet in practice the exercise of that right has been and is being made impossible because of the financial burdens placed upon parents. Hundreds of thousands of children are, in effect, being forced to attend public schools. Hundreds of Catholic and other schools are having to close their doors, despite the heroic efforts of parishes and dioceses to provide sufficient funding. The rights of parents are effectively being denied by court decisions and public policies which prevent any effective way of providing justice for parents and students. In the face of this injustice, there should be a vigorous, continuing effort to change public opinion and the “political certainties” of the day. The supporters of equal rights did not give up their efforts to overcome racial segregation in schools. They were not satisfied with partial success. They persevered for years, despite many setbacks. Ultimately they succeeded.

The rights of parents and the well-being of our society demand our courage, perseverance and organized advocacy on behalf of parental rights in education and the just treatment of all children.

Rather than weakly acquiesce in continued injustice by being content with a right to some aid, we need a more vigorous call for increased efforts, particularly at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are coming to recognize the importance of educational choice and embracing alternative forms of education.

One would hope America, which has in the past spoken strongly on behalf of parental rights, would continue to do so, and forcefully urge more organized efforts by the Catholic school community and others to obtain not partial, but full justice.

William H. Slavick | 9/16/2006 - 1:23am
"A Fair Share"

Dear Editor:

"The People's Choice" (9/18) nicely raises anew the issue of state funding for nonstate schools which, in the Know-Nothing era, the Protestant establishment effectively foreclosed when it collapsed tax-funded denominational schools (where the Founding Fathers' children were educated) into the nominally Protestant public schools --in large part in order to avoid funding Catholic schools. The secular establishment has continued that foreclosure since President Kennedy's 1961 proposal of federal aid to state schools only raised a cry for fairness.

There was a moment, just before school desegregation served to cast a doubt on motives, when it appeared there might be real progress in recognition that parents' constitutional right to determine the schooling of their children was increasingly foreclosed by rising tuition costs in denying them a fair share of education taxes for their childrens' education--a denial unique in advanced countries.

Citizens for Educational Freedom, founded in 1960 (I was on its board), quickly grew to 75,000 members. In the 1962 elections, Frank Brown's effort in two of Mayor Daley's safe Chicago Congressional districts and CEF's in John Brademas's Indiana district sent a message that federal aid must include nonstate students, a message that Kennedy received and, subsequently, Lyndon Johnson's legislation respected.

Soon CEF was close to state legislature majorities in efforts to repeal Blaine amendments. CEF captured a New York constitutional convention but was foiled at the new constitution's ratification by the NYEA and ACLU.

CEF's "fair share for every child" meant funding for secular subjects and recognized the state's right to set standards and require teacher accreditation. Funds, determined by simple cost accounting, could go to the school, but CEF preferred vouchers, which helped surmount the argument of those who would not support a church; the aid was to the child, for his or her education, like the G.I. Bill, not a grant to an institution.

Curiously, even though the Supreme Court has moved in that direction, the claim to a constitutional right to a fair share is now largely ignored in favor of the irrefutable argument that you cannot require that parents keep their child in a state school where he or she is not being educated or else lose funding. The counter argument that kids do no better in nonstate schools, as if "better" is the only justification for funding a constitutional freedom, has, unfortunately triggered CEF's and others' focus on state school failings.

William H. Slavick

Portland, ME

Steve Pable | 11/28/2006 - 3:43pm
To the editorial staff at America,

I sincerely enjoy your magazine, even though I find myself behind in my reading right now. I've been a subscriber for almost 3 years now, but in my limited experience, I have yet to find any substantial content about religious education in your annual "Religious Education Issue" (9/18/06). If memory serves, there have been 2 editorials on Catholic schools in these issues, and an article on the role of the Da Vinci Code in adult education.

I am exceedingly troubled by this, because I count on America to be "the magazine for thinking Catholics, and for those who care what Catholics think." Evidently, not too many Catholics are thinking about religious education. As the individual responsible for this ministry in a good-size Midwestern parish, I am hurt by the lack of attention accorded to this vital element of the Church's mission. It only serves to reinforce the perception by those in my field that Religious Education/Faith Formation is not a priority for those in Church leadership.

Surely the recent promulgation of the National Directory for Catechesis, or Co-Workers in the Vineyard, or the US Catholic Catechism for Adults, would warrant some coverage in your publication. Please prove me wrong in my assumption that this topic is not on the Catholic radar in the United States. If it would help, I'm sure I could recruit a capable author to pen a really fine article or two on the subject.

Yours in Christ, Steve Pable Neenah, WI

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