A prayer for Catholic schools facing the Covid-19 pandemic

John Flanery, president of Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools in Sioux City, Iowa, speaks to graduating seniors and their families June 27, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Jerry L Mennenga)John Flanery, president of Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools in Sioux City, Iowa, speaks to graduating seniors and their families June 27, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Jerry L Mennenga)

Tragically, the opportunity to attend a Catholic school may be denied to millions of children as private schools across the United States fall victim to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have already announced the decision to close permanently, including the Institute of Notre Dame, an all-girls Catholic school in Baltimore once attended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Absent relief, more and more private schools will close, hurting local economies on the way. The most vulnerable schools are those in lower-income neighborhoods serving lower-income families.

Providing an opportunity for a good education, regardless of income or background, should be common ground for both political parties. All families, not just those with the means, deserve to choose the school that can provide the best education for their children. For people of all sorts—from that young woman in Baltimore who became the speaker of the House of Representatives to the daughter of immigrants chasing the American dream—private schools are an essential element in the education of our future leaders.

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All families, not just those with the means, deserve to choose the school that can provide the best education for their children.

The day I got the chance to attend a private school was the day my path took a turn for success. From kindergarten to eighth grade, I attended a public school that repeatedly failed to give me the education I deserved. Just having immigrated to the United States, my mother did not understand the U.S. education system, but it seemed to make sense for me to attend a school in close proximity to her job. 

In Arizona, schools are required to send parents a notice of the ratings they receive. As it turned out, the school I attended was a failing one, and we hadn’t even known it. 

Though some of the teachers at my public school were great, the curriculum was never challenging, and the environment was stressful. The security lockdowns that occurred up to three times a month took away valuable time during the most critical learning years. 

Absent relief, more and more private schools will close, hurting local economies on the way. 

After eighth grade, thanks to Arizona’s school choice program and my mother’s hard work, I finally got my chance to pick the school I would attend for high school. St. Mary’s provided me with the rigorous education I needed to succeed. Class sizes were smaller, and teachers took time before and after school hours to make sure I was on the right path. 

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It is evident that many students benefit from having an option other than public schools, but tuition can be expensive. Private schools are not funded by the government, so in states like Arizona, choice programs and charitable donations are what allow them to operate. At the same time, U.S. public schools nationwide receive, on average, more than $12,000 per student from taxpayer funds.

Private schools are not funded by the government. Choice programs and charitable donations allow them to operate.

With the pandemic and unstable economy, many parents are struggling to pay tuition for their children in private schools, and some will have no option but to remove their children from the schools that best serve them. In a domino effect, some private schools will be forced to close, further reducing school choice.

Families should not be forced to leave schools where their children are thriving. The pandemic is a time for compassion from local, state and national leaders; and that compassion should not leave out families that only want their children to continue learning and exceeding in school.

Attending a Catholic school formed me into the person I am today. I learned about values and morals through both hardship and opportunities. The environment I was in and the people who surrounded me helped me grow in my faith. In addition, attending St. Mary’s opened so many doors for me. It led to scholarship opportunities that allowed me to continue my education in college and prepared me for the challenges of my career path. It helped build a type of discipline that earns respect. 

One of the most important things about religion is that whatever language one speaks or wherever one comes from, it can create a deep connection. That is something all children of immigrants can appreciate. In a school setting, religion can make us feel at home and give us something to bond over. I will forever cherish the second family that I gained by attending a Catholic school. And I pray that our leaders will act now so that millions of students will not lose the chance to have access to an education they enjoy and thrive in—an education where they can make deep connections and find their own second families, the way I was privileged to do.

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

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