Monday, August 3, 2020

Catholic Church Looks To Cash In On Espinoza

Well, this is not exactly a surprise.

Now that SCOTUS has poked another huge hole in the wall between church and state, and now that the Catholic Church and the Trump administration have been forging closer ties over support for school choice (aka getting tax dollars to Catholic schools), and now that Betsy DeVos is insisting that financial aid intended for public schools should go to private schools-- now that all that is going on, it should come as no surprise that the Catholic Church is now arguing publicly to be given more taxpayer dollars.

It surfaced here in the National Catholic Register last Thursday. The op-ed is penned by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Seán O’Malley and Archbishop José H. Gómez, from New York, Boston and Los Angeles, and it leads with the Espinoza decision, saying it "corrected an historic injustice." Also, the Covid-19 pandemic is sad and affecting everyone. And then they move quickly from there to demanding their cut of taxpayer funding. Their talking points include the following:

* Catholic schools have been around for two centuries. They would like you to focus on the part of the Catholic system that serves the upwardly mobile poor, and not the part that serves exclusive wealthy folks.

* Catholic schools educate lots of non-Catholic students, like them Protestants, Jewish folk, and Muslims. Well, as long as they aren't, you know, gay, or have too costly an IEP.

* Catholic schools are facing a financial crisis and many "will close." Parents might have to pull kids out because of their own financial hardships. We're going to come back to this point in a moment.

* Catholic schools are worth saving because they help poor kids and make society better.

* Catholic schools are better and cheaper than public schools. They provide "healthy competition," which is a bogus notion. And then there's this bit of baloney: "Year after year, 99% of our students graduate from high school..." First of all, that's just sloppily inaccurate, since a goodly percentage of their students are not in 12th grade. Second, as always, watch the cohort. In other words, don't tell me how many of your seniors graduate from your high school, but tell me how many of, say, your freshmen are still there after four years and then graduate. Third, I notice this sloppy sentence just says that their students graduate from high school, so I guess if someone leaves Catholic school after eighth grade and then graduates from a public school, they still count. Which is still not impressive since Catholic schools automatically select for families with committed and involved parents.

* Catholic school closures would cost taxpayers big bucks because Catholic schools spend so much less per pupil. And in this pandemic time, they're keeping schools from overcrowding.

The Catholic leaders have a solution!

To enable families to provide the best education for their children and stabilize enrollment in Catholic and other non-government schools, Congress should also adopt a federal scholarship tax credit modeled after successful state-level credits.

By a remarkable coincidence, this is exactly what Betsy DeVos has been pushing with her Education Freedom tax credit program, aka super-vouchers. The writers argue that this is just the kind of program that Espinoza upheld, which, yes, sort of. In fact, the unfortunate truth is that the argument in favor of Espinoza was always going to lead here, because the argument is basically "if the government funds something, they can't exclude somebody from sucking up some of those delicious tax dollars just because they are a religious organization."

So I'm not going to bet that the Catholic church won't eventually win this argument nationally (they've already won it in a couple of states).

But it's still baloney. Take this:

This is not a choice between tax-payer-funded public schools and tuition-based independent schools. Public schools and independent schools equally deserve and urgently need our government’s assistance.

Well, no, unless you're planning to tap some infinite pool of money, it is a zero-sum choice game. Nor do independent schools "equally deserve" taxpayer dollars. Let's say your town has a community pool that's open to everyone, but a local group decides that they want their own private pool for just the people they want to let swim there. When there's a need for maintenance and upkeep, are both pools deserving of taxpayer support? Of course not.

Nor do Catholic schools just "close." The language used in the op-ed is carefully chosen, but if you've been in a community that went through the process (we've watched this unfold locally over the past couple of years), you know that Catholic schools don't just close like the tide going out or wildflowers blooming. Catholic schools close because the Catholic church chooses to close them. The Catholic church swoops into town and says "You aren't pulling in enough students" or "we don't want to spend more money on this building" and, to the accompanying sound of parent protests, the Catholic church itself shuts down the school.

And it should be noted that in many cases what's needed is not an infusion of dollars, but an infusion of students. If we're going to praise the virtues of "healthy competition," well, this is what that looks like in some communities--Catholic schools have lost the competition for a big slice of the market. 

Arguments like the one in this op-ed talk about Catholic schools as if they are orphan private schools, with no possible source of income except tuition and aid, when in fact they are attached to one of the wealthiest organizations/businesses in the country. And I think we can say "businesses" because the US Catholic church pulled in billions of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Even if you convince me of every talking point above, I'm going to ask why that isn't an argument that the Catholic church should provide greater financial support for their own private school system. Why should the US taxpayer be footing the bill for a private, exclusive organization run by one of the richest companies in the country?


  1. By divorce decree, my Husband and I had to pay for his son's $20,000/ year tuition at Brebeuf High School, an exclusive Catholic school in Indianapolis. We also had to pay an additional $2500/year for "Special Services" because he had an a IEP from his previous public school. $1500/year for books, and $50/week for lunch. Because of the area we lived in, we qulified for one of Indiana's vouchers which we were requrired to use. Families that could get a voucher, which was literally everyone had to request it from the State or pay cash up front for the full amount of tuition if you did not request the voucher. So we had to use the $10,000 from the state and make payments on the rest. In Indiana, we were allowed to deduct the balalnce of that tuition and fees from our state taxes. We did this for four years without using the tax deduction, and during that entire time, my husband and I were not allowed to attend his sport events, go to his school for parent conferences, see his grades or even communicate with his teachers all because we had an Illegitimate marriage according to the Catholic Church because we both had been divorced. This same Catholic Dicocese fired around 5 teachers at other schools for being in same sex marriages, fired teachers for supporting or speaking out against the anti- gay policy and expelled students that protested the dismissal if thise teachers. Indiana has the most expansive voucher program in the US. If you beathe, you qualify for a voucher. Every year our state leaders increase voucher funds by decreasing our public schools funds. Everything about this is wrong and disgusting.

  2. Excellent analogy with the pool maintenance. Helpful.

  3. The Archdiocese will regret their decision. When Common Core, the never ending testing, data collection and all the other "deforms" that have been foisted upon public schools (which has now caused public school parents to flee to the Catholic schools) enters their hallowed halls, they will be singing a different tune. Take money from the government, State or Federal and something is always asked for in return. I send child #2 to a Catholic Faith based, progressive private HS that is separate from the Archdiocese schools. We pay for this and I do not want Vouchers. I kindly explain to the parents pushing for vouchers, that if they are willing to take money, they will have to give something in return......and those things are why they left the public system to begin with.