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When will Catholic taxpayers get their fair share of education dollars, asks Louis P. De Angelo

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Usually in this annual Catholic Schools Week feature essay, information about the good news of Catholic school education is shared.

Louis De Angelo
Louis De Angelo

Evidence of the development of students’ faith lives is provided such as the story of Reagan Garnsey, a seventh grader from Holy Cross School, who will receive the 2020 Youth Virtues, Valor and Vision Award from the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) for selfless service, determination, innovation and ideals that are changing the world. Garnsey was chosen from more than 1.8 million Catholic school students across the country for her idea of “Buckets of Love.” She began a foundation that has brought 6,829 Buckets of Love to young children who are sick, homeless, or experiencing other challenging situations in all 50 states.

Academic successes, too, are generally reported, such as the fact that the average SAT score among the Catholic high schools exceeds the average SAT score of every public school district in the state of Delaware. Student recognition in science fairs, Future Cities challenges, robotics, Junior Achievement, Blue/Gold events, Odyssey of the Mind, math league competitions , and other activities are often described in our Catholic Schools Week celebration.

This year, however, rather than spending this column touting success stories of Catholic schools, I come seeking a better understanding of state government. For example, by law, education is a state responsibility. Just looking at elementary schools, in Delaware the average per pupil cost for education in 2018 was $14,120. In the Diocese of Wilmington, families pay an average tuition of $6,200 per pupil, less than half of what it costs the state per pupil. If student education is the responsibility of the state, and Catholic schools can accomplish success at a significantly less expensive cost, why can’t any funding for education be provided by the state government to students’ families to assist them in this regard?

Please tell me why.

Textbooks used in public schools for English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies are often the very same textbooks used in Catholic schools to meet state and diocesan curricular goals. The books are non-denominational in content or they wouldn’t pass muster in public education. Yet, Catholic school families must purchase their own textbooks for their students with no assistance from the state.

Please tell me why.

As a former social studies teacher, I understand that Delaware is a Blaine Amendment state. The Blaine Amendment was a failed amendment to the United States Constitution in the 19th century that was tacked on to state constitutions in more than 35 states. Its intention was to forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have a religious affiliation, particularly Catholic schools serving the growing immigrant population in the latter part of the 1800s. However, it is 2020 and schools with a religious affiliation, particularly Catholic schools, are serving more than 8,000 students in Delaware, saving state government huge expenditures. The Blaine Amendment can be removed from state law but hasn’t.

Please tell me why.

Perhaps, as we look to Catholic Schools Week 2020, “why” is the wrong approach. Maybe I should not say “please tell me why” but instead, “please tell me when.” My hope is that next year’s essay will begin by stating that my WHYs have been answered because state leadership and the citizenry have decided WHEN is now.

Louis P. De Angelo, Ed.D., is superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.