Are vouchers a savior for Philadelphia’s parochial schools?

Today officials from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sat down with representatives of about 50 elementary and secondary schools slated to close or be consolidated. Friday’s announcement of major school closings and consolidations has left students, teachers, and alumni shaken. The solution to Philadelphia’s struggling Catholic education system may already be in place elsewhere.

Providing an education’s not cheap, says Paul Peterson, the Director of the program on Education Policy, and Governance at Harvard University.”It used to be that you could get nuns who would teach as a charity — they took a poverty vow — that’s no longer a part of our culture,” said Peterson. “So really it’s become very expensive and therefore the tuition has risen.”Peterson said poor families in particular find it difficult to pay the tuition. He said a school voucher program that provides parents with about $7,000 per year per student has stabilized Milwaukee’s Catholic education system.”I don’t think there’s more Catholic schools now than when this program began back in 1996,” said Peterson, “but I think there’s roughly the same number.

“I think there’s no sense of crisis in Milwaukee, as you see in Philadelphia. Instead of falling enrollment it’s stabilized. Up until now it’s been limited to families of low income but as of this year they’re expanding it to middle-income families as well.”On Friday, after talking about the difficult decision in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput said if vouchers had been in place 15 years ago, the church probably wouldn’t be closing the schools.  It’s not just the United States, said Paul Peterson.”Throughout Europe parents have a choice of sending their kids to a religious school or to the public school, and the government pays the cost of tuition,” he said. “The Canadians do the same thing. So setting this up would probably be beneficial to the Catholic schools for sure, and it appears as if it would be beneficial to low-income families.”Opponents of school vouchers for religious schools object to giving taxpayer dollars for religious education.  Courts have ruled that since the voucher goes with the student and the student selects where it will be used, that it passes constitutional tests.

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