Dumping Massachusetts’ Know-Nothing Amendments: Church, State, and School Reform

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Dumping Massachusetts’ Know-Nothing Amendments: Church, State, and School Reform

Pioneer Institute hosts event with former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn and releases new research on Catholic schooling in Massachusetts

Contact Micaela Dawson at 617-723-2277 ext. 203, or mdawson@pioneerinst.wpengine.com

Be Not Afraid: A History of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts

Boston, MA – On the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Pioneer Institute held an event on removing the legal obstacles to Catholic and private schooling in Massachusetts, at the Omni Parker House on Wednesday morning. Raymond Flynn, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and three-term Boston Mayor, delivered the keynote address, followed by Professor Patrick Wolf, 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas. A diverse panel of education and policy leaders participated in a roundtable debate on this issue.

The event was sponsored by Pioneer Institute, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Parents Alliance for Catholic Education, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance. At the event, Pioneer released a white paper, “Be Not Afraid”: A History of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts (http://www.pioneerinst.wpengine.com/pdf/110315_Be_Not_Afraid.pdf ) authored by Dr. Cara Stillings Candal, a researcher at the Boston University School of Education.

Pioneer hopes the paper and the event will further the conversation on education tax credits for religious and private school tuition, another option for expanding school choice for working class and minority families. “Massachusetts has long been lauded as a national leader in public education reform,” says Pioneer executive director Jim Stergios. “This paper establishes two things. First, Massachusetts Catholic schools are themselves educational leaders, providing a high-quality educational option for Massachusetts children. And, second, because we as a state have proven incapable of shaking a bigoted chapter in the our history, we lag behind neighboring states like Rhode Island in giving less wealthy kids access to great educational options.”

The research paper gives Massachusetts Catholic schools high marks for providing a high-quality education and a safe learning environment for Massachusetts’ poor and working-class families at a substantially lower cost than the average public school’s per-pupil expenditure. “They deserve a little support from our political leaders,” said former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, who is part of the group supporting education tax credits for religious and private schools. “Government tax breaks and multi-million dollar bonuses for the wealthy, but no help for needy parents who choose to educate their children in non-public schools?” The Archdiocese of Boston schools outperform national averages on the Stanford 10, outperform the Boston Public Schools and Massachusetts (the nation’s leader) on the SAT exams, and report high rates of graduation and college attendance. These student achievement results, the values-based instruction that permeates the schools’ culture, and the generous scholarships provided to the needy student population all Press Release March 16, 2011 explain why more minority, poor, and immigrant families in the inner city are opting for parochial education. The Archdiocese of Boston is among those pushing for education tax credits, along with education policy groups. Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, Secretary of Education and Superintendent of the Archdiocese of Boston notes, “Catholic education is a vital and important part of society…Catholic schools achieve excellence in education and Catholic identity, and our schools form good, caring people every day.”

The paper also highlights serious challenges ahead. Massachusetts Catholic schools face declining enrollment, financial hardship, and a shrinking pool of seminarians and nuns from which to draw low-cost teaching faculty. Beset in recent years by school closures, the Archdiocese has had to rely on the generosity of wealthy philanthropists for support. “This report makes clear that Catholic schools in Boston provide a superior education to the students who need it most, and that they do so at a great savings to taxpayers,” said the paper’s author, Dr. Cara Stillings Candal. “We should do whatever it takes to make sure that these schools continue to thrive.” “Be Not Afraid” offers proposals that both state policy makers and the Catholic school community can implement for future success and to ensure that students most in need will continue to have access to a quality education. The paper includes two key recommendations: • Massachusetts lawmakers must repeal Massachusetts’ two Know-Nothing or Anti-Aid Amendments, which prevent public funds from being disbursed to parents for private and parochial school tuition. • State legislators must enact education tax credit legislation allowing for donations to scholarship granting organizations that help low-income students attend private schools. Such programs have been implemented successfully to benefit tens of thousands of students in Florida, Arizona, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In recent years, Pioneer has released three pieces of research on this topic: “School Choice Without Vouchers: Expanding Education options through Tax Credits” (October 2007); “Education Tax Credits: A Review of the Rhode Island Program and Assessment of Possibilities in Massachusetts” (October 2010); and, “The Know-Nothing Amendments: Barriers to School Choice in Massachusetts” (April 2009). Pioneer op-eds on the Know-Nothing Amendments and tax credit programs have appeared in the Boston Herald (“Tax credit Key to broader School Choice,” November 17, 2010 and “Bigotry Impedes School Choice” March 17, 2010), Worcester Telegram & Gazette (“Expanding Opportunity,” December 8, 2010), Providence Journal (“Mass. Should help poor children attend better schools,” December 19, 2010), Patriot Ledger (“It’s time for another look at education tax credits,” December 22, 2010), and the Lowell Sun (“An education in tax-credit program for Massachusetts,” December 13, 2010). # # # Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civil discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.