From January 26 to February 1, the National Catholic Education Association will celebrate Catholic Schools Week with the theme Communities of Faith, Knowledge, and Service. The theme not only recognizes the commitment Catholic schools uphold to foster academic achievement, but also their commitment to develop in students a sense of responsibility to promote the common good of society.
The Catholic Church’s emphasis on the importance of a child’s education begins even before their birth. During a Catholic marriage ceremony the couple is asked if they are open to children and willing to raise them in the faith. The Church calls for all parents to assume responsibility for educating their children and to choose a school which best fits with their own beliefs (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2229). As the primary educators of their children, parents have the opportunity to teach values within the family and provide context to what is learned at school in an influential way.
Regardless of the type of school that one attends, every child deserves access to a quality education. The learning and growth that takes place during this formative time helps to shape the person that the child will become and the contributions he or she will later make to society. Still, greater steps are needed in Michigan to ensure that a variety of quality educational opportunities are provided for parents.
While programs in twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia offer parents choices for their child’s education, Michigan regrettably is among the most regressive states in the nation in terms of full school choice. Language added to the Michigan Constitution in 1970, known as a “Blaine Amendment,” specifically forbids the passage of tuition tax credits or deductions, opportunity programs, or scholarship programs for children to attend a non-public school. Every state in the Great Lakes region, however, allows for such policies that have encouraged student achievement and better educational opportunities, especially for low-income and minority families. Michigan has fallen behind.
While the state’s restrictive language continues to leave Michigan parents with fewer choices, the constitution clearly calls for education to be a priority. According to Article 8, Section 1: “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Michigan Catholic Conference believes this important statement applies to all schools in the state, public or non-public.
States that are providing educational choice opportunities and encouraging education in public and non-public schools have seen benefits for students of all faiths, family income levels, and backgrounds. For example, the Louisiana Scholarship Program provides scholarships to low-income families earning less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) with children in “failing” school districts. The program is one of the few chances some low-income children have to escape the cycle of poverty and to receive the quality education every child deserves.
Providing roughly 54,382 students with a safe, academically challenging, and faith-filled environment, Michigan Catholic schools teach values that stay with students for the rest of their lives. These schools continue to demonstrate a proven track record of high achievement, posting top graduation rates and test scores for low-income, minority, and many non-Catholic students.
For the past several years, the Michigan Legislature has taken the time to recognize Catholic Schools Week for their hard work, academic performance and dedication to service. The contribution Catholic schools make to education and the common good should not only be recognized during Catholic Schools Week, but also year round as a viable school choice option for students and parents. Children and families of Michigan deserve no less as the discriminatory language in the state constitution should be repealed.
As Michigan Catholic Conference advocates on behalf of policies that benefit non-public schools, the organization is dedicated to enacting good public policy for students in all schools, as all children deserve access to a quality education. The State of Michigan is best served with both strong public and non-public schools as well as policies that enhance and promote learning for every student.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.