Some thoughts on parochial schools

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St Pats Day Breakfast.jpg

March 17th marked St. Patrick’s Day. Today, Glen Johnson of the Globe live-blogged this morning during the annual breakfast that featured this year U.S. Senator Scott Brown, Governor Deval Patrick, and a number of our other political leaders.

Celebrations including parades were held across the state in places like Abington, Boston, Holyoke, and Scituate. On this day of belated celebration of the patron saint of Ireland, it is only right to kick off a handful of blogs on parochial schools.

We know the challenges. After marked growth in the number of schools and of students prior to 1940, the enrollment numbers for the Archdiocese of Boston’s schools has dropped from 151,000 to 42,000 since 1965, the majority of the decline occurring between 1965 and 1973. The staffing of parochial schools have also changed significantly, with today’s parochial teaching staff composed primarily of lay teachers—and with that very different financial pressures in place.

We also know the high academic quality of instruction in parochial schools. Massachusetts’ 209 parochial schools, with their 67,000 students, and within that the 124 schools in the Archdiocese of Boston’s network (42,000 students), outperform Massachusetts public schools on the SAT. Overall, they stand within an inch of the statewide performance in Massachusetts public schools on the Nation’s Report Card.

That is really terrific performance for schools that are largely urban.

Over the past five years, a number of reports have demonstrated four important things that help us

As former Boston Mayor and US Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn noted in a recent op-ed

We need look no farter than Rhode Island to find a successful tax credit program that helps more than 500 needy students attend private schools. Florida has a larger program. During the 2006-7 school year, just under 900 private schools educated 14,502 low-income students using tax credit scholarships.

Rhode Island’s tax credit strategy has been successful certainly for parents interested in sending their children to parochial but also to schools of other denomination. Interestingly for Massachusetts, it is similar in political culture and political pressures. What does that say about the opportunity for—and the chances of—getting something similar done here in the Commonwealth?