The Legacy of Anti-Irish Bigotry Blocks School Choice in the Bay State

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three leaf cloversMassachusetts is one of most “Catholic” states in the country, yet it is one of  just two states with strict constitutional barriers, so-called anti-aid amendments that prevent public funds from being disbursed to working families to help them afford private or parochial school tuition. Pioneer has published numerous reports and op-eds exposing these amendments, vestiges of 19th-century bigotry against Irish-Catholic immigrants. Read Jamie Gass’s latest op-ed, “In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, repeal Know-Nothing law,” in The Patriot Ledger.

Pioneer supports increased access to private and parochial schools, because parents should be able to choose the best school for their children, and no child should be trapped in an under-performing public school. Eighteen states, including Rhode Island, currently have education voucher or tax credit scholarship programs so that students can access high-quality options. Sadly, Massachusetts is not one of them.

We recommend that Bay State leaders:

  • Repeal the Know-Nothing Amendments, which are legal barriers preventing more kids from attending private school – they date back to the 1800s and anti-Irish bigotry, and they continue largely because of political reasons.
  • Enact legislation to authorize tax credits to enable low-income students to attend private schools. Numerous states, including Rhode Island, have implemented programs successfully, and a coalition of religious and policy leaders are working to adopt a program here in Massachusetts.

During the week of St. Patrick’s Day in 2011, in partnership with the Black Alliance for Educational Options, Parents Alliance for Catholic Education, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and Program on Education Policy and Governance, Pioneer held “Dumping the Know-Nothing Amendments: Church, State, and School Reform,” an event featuring Raymond Flynn, former US Ambassador to the Vatican and Mayor of Boston.

The event marked the release of the report, Be Not Afraid: A History of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts, which highlighted the demand among Boston’s poor, minority, and immigrant families for the high-quality, values-based instruction and safe learning environment that many parochial schools provide at a substantially lower cost than district counterparts. The report also demonstrated that the Archdiocese’s schools outperform their district, state and national peers on standardized testing, and report high rates of graduation and college attendance.

At the event, Ambassador Flynn called on Massachusetts lawmakers to repeal the state’s two Know-Nothing or Anti-Aid Amendments, or at least to enact education tax credit legislation allowing for donations to scholarship granting organizations that help low-income students attend private schools. Professor Patrick Wolf, 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice, University of Arkansas, also presented his findings on the demand for parochial schools across the country, and the benefits of school choice. Read his presentation, below.

In March 2012, Pioneer hosted an event, “No More Know Nothing Laws: School Choice in Massachusetts,” featuring education reform advocates, Kevin Chavous and Jay Greene. At the event, Pioneer released two new research studies, Four Models of Catholic Schooling in Massachusetts, authored by Dr. Cara Stillings Candal of Boston University, and Rhode Island Jewish Day Schools and Scholarship Tax Credits, by Jason Bedrick, a former state legislator from New Hampshire. 

Watch Some of Our School Choice Videos

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Pioneer op-eds on the Know-Nothing Amendments and tax credit programs have been published in newspapers across the state, and Pioneer’s Jamie Gass appeared with Ambassador Flynn on WRKO’s Tom & Todd and WBZ’s Nightside with Dan Rea.

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