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.
Over the past five years, a number of reports have demonstrated four important things that help us
- Independent schools (the survey included a broad swath of parochial schools) are interested in schooling more inner city students even at a sum of $6,500 a year (about half the state average).
- Massachusetts’ Know-Nothing or Blaine amendments to the state’s constitution, which arose out of mid-19th century bigotry against the influx of Irish Catholics, prevent public money from being expended on religious and then in a 1917 revision from being expended on private schools.
- A tax credit strategy, whereby corporations and individuals could give philanthropically to a non-profit school lottery, stands a very good chance of passing constitutional muster, as there are precedents in other states with similar laws and amendments, and as there are examples in Massachusetts itself where private money is going to religious and private educational institutions.
- An ever increasing number of states have implemented education tax credit strategies, which allow individuals and corporations to make philanthropic gifts to a non-profit entity that in turn gives support to inner city parents seeking to send their children to private schools. We are at the point where we can draw strong lessons to develop an accountable, transparent and effective way to expand school choice options for children who are underserved by large urban districts.
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?