Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J of Oakland, chairman of the Committee on Catholic Education for the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has joined a coalition of more than 150 interfaith and civil society organizations calling on the U.S. Congress to provide immediate federal aid to benefit low-income students in non-public schools. In recent weeks, more than 100 Catholic schools have announced that they plan to close, with hundreds more facing an uncertain future, because of the economic losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Barber noted that the emergency aid is vital because the mission of Catholic schools is at stake: “Catholic education has been an integral part of the American experience and a means to lift many from poverty. That mission is imperiled because of the economic devastation facing many families across the country; as families lose income, they are unable to make the tuition payments that sustain our schools.”
Contributing to the crisis is the fact that Catholic parishes have not had Sunday Mass collections. The parishes normally provide financial support to the schools, which are part of the educational ministry of the parishes, in order to keep the tuition rate within financial reach for all families. This financial assistance from the parish makes it possible for many lower-middle-income families to choose a Catholic school for their children.
The letter asks for Congress to designate emergency funding for direct scholarship aid to low-middle income private school families, and to enact a new federal tax credit for donations to state scholarship granting organizations.
Total enrollment in Catholic schools nationally for the current academic year is 1,737,297, across 6,183 schools. Racial minorities comprise 21.8% of total enrollment, and 19.1% of all students are non-Catholic.