Fair Parental Choice in Catholic School Education

The following blog was contributed by Sister Dale McDonald, PBVM, Ph.D., NCEA Vice President of Public Policy.  

For decades, NCEA has supported parental choice in education as a component of the social justice agenda of the Catholic church. The choice movement is about supporting parents as the primary educators of their children and assisting them with the means to select the education they deem appropriate for their children. The association defines “full and fair parental choice” as that which includes all private and religiously affiliated schools.

The attainment of full and fair parental choice in education is NCEA’s primary public policy objective. NCEA supports programs such as tax credits, vouchers, scholarships and education savings accounts to ensure that all parents have the financial means to select the appropriate school for their children. 

The association advocates for the enactment of legislation and policies that will maximize the quality of educational opportunities for all of America’s children, particularly the children of poor and modest means. While millions of Americans exercise their right to choose schools they believe best for their children, their freedom depends on their ability to pay tuition to private schools or to establish residence in communities with excellent public schools. But virtually all low-income and many middle-income families cannot exercise their right to choose the schools they want to educate their children. 

As Catholic school educators, the NCEA membership believes that all children are entitled to attend any school, religious, private or public, which will help them to achieve their full potential and that such choice is a universal parental right regardless of race, creed, neighborhood or the ability to pay. From the earliest settlements of this country, Catholic schools have served the common good of the nation and will continue to do so in a manner that recognizes that all children have an inalienable right to a quality education that is determined by parents, the primary educators of their children. At NCEA that commitment continues.

We believe that educational choice can promote academic excellence by creating an educational climate that is respectful of parental concerns while fostering a competitive climate that results in greater school accountability to parents.

NCEA members believe that the needs of students and their parents supersede those of entrenched educational bureaucracies. 

Public interest polls unfailingly demonstrate that parents overwhelmingly support full and fair choice. Furthermore, any publicly funded educational choice programs must include religiously affiliated schools if all parents, particularly those with low or middle incomes, are to have meaningful options. 

Most parents who currently choose Catholic or other private schools for their children exercise this constitutional right at significant cost and personal sacrifice; they bear a dual burden of paying school tuition while also contributing their share of taxes to support public schools. The education of children in Catholic schools provides more than $21 billion in annual tax savings to the American people.

We believe that government financial assistance to parents, in the form of tax relief, scholarships or vouchers, to enable them to choose any school, including religiously affiliated ones, will withstand First Amendment challenges. We urge the continuance of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the first federally funded scholarship program for under-served students that is changing the lives of almost 2,000 student participants.

Catholic school educators support the right of parents to choose schools for their children. This fundamental liberty – the belief that “the child is not the mere creature of the state” – was upheld by the Pierce decision.

Today millions of Americans exercise the right to choose schools. This freedom, however, depends on their ability to pay tuition to a private school or to live in neighborhoods where the public school system meets the needs of their children.

While NCEA advocates for educational choice for all Americans, it has a special concern for the children of the poor. These children are our children, too. Priority should be given to assistance for low- and middle-income families, enabling them to increase educational options for their children.

NCEA believes that full and fair parental choice will strengthen both families and schools and improve educational opportunities for all. Interested in more information on parents’ rights for school choice informed by Catholic Church documents? Please see the blog post, Parents’ Rights in Education by Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D. Excerpts are from Father Stravinskas’ book, The Mission of Catholic Schools: A Century of Reflection and Direction.