LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?

How Catholic Schools Can Overcome the Coronavirus Threat

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We do a lot of worrying these trying days. We’re anxious about our own health, and the well-being of those whom we cherish. Preoccupation about when we’ll “get back to normal,” and if life will ever be “normal” as before, abounds. We toss and turn about jobs, bills, and openings of stores and businesses. For us believers, we’re fretting, rightly so, about when Mass and the sacraments will be available again for us.
Yes...we all do a lot of worrying these days.
One challenge I especially anguish over is our beloved Catholic schools. No one, even those who are hardly fans of our schools, questions their effectiveness. Political leaders often whisper in my ear, “Your schools do twice-as-good a job of educating our kids at half-the-price,” and then ask me not to quote them by name lest they get in trouble with the potent lobbyists for the government monopoly schools.
The education in a Catholic school is splendid, and holistic: Our schools form minds, hearts, bodies, souls, and character. We tell our parents that a school without God is seriously deficient. Virtue, accountability, and discipline are part of the curriculum.
And the data shows their success year-after-year, as 98 percent of our students graduate high school, and 96 percent enter college.
Professionals tell us that our Catholic schools, especially for families struggling below the poverty line—more than 40 percent of our families—provide the best way for our youth to improve and prosper.
So, why am I so worried about them? Because they’re now under severe threat!
Problems are hardly novel to our schools.
Since their start here in the United States over two centuries ago, our schools have had to scrape for every penny. No huge checks for them from government. I’m convinced this is actually part of the grit and determination of our schools.
We’ve survived the decimation of orders of teaching sisters, priests, and brothers, whose selfless devotion kept our schools so vibrant.
We got through the move of our families out of the urban neighborhoods where parishes and their schools were the anchor of the area.
We persevered through the ever-escalating costs of salaries, programs, and buildings.
We kept at it while critics asked if our schools were worth it, as the data consistently demonstrated our schools were the best thing we got going for us...
But—and here’s my worry—can we survive the coronavirus?
Oh, it’s not that the line of parents so eager for their children to be in our schools has gotten shorter, not at all.
It’s that the line of parents unable to afford the tuition is getting longer!
Right now, they are ever so hoping they can sign up or re-register their kids for September. In the best of times, to send their sons and daughters to a Catholic school requires a lot of scrimping, saving, and sacrifice, plus a hope that our renowned scholarship programs will come through with help.
But, so many of these parents are now out of work, and wonder if and when their jobs will return. The rent, the bills pile up. Can they send their kids to the schools of their dreams?
And, of course, if our enrollment plummets, some of our treasured schools will not be able to reopen.
What can we do to help?
For one, continue to support our schools, please. Our celebrated Inner-City Scholarship Fund (scholarshipsinfo@innercitynyc.org) is so efficient in assisting parents in every school enroll and keep their kids with us.
Two, lobby our government officials to use this crisis to make sure our parents and children benefit from the valuable sustenance package—as, through the CARES Act, thanks to efforts here by Senator Schumer and President Trump, they have so far (although, sadly, such justice is not extended in the House version of the proposed “Heroes Act”)—and that much longed for reform in educational justice takes place, allowing our parents to use their tax money to subsidize the education of their children in the school of their choice.
No surprise, our city’s newspaper, which has always looked down its nose on our schools, warns that our children in our schools cannot and should not expect or get any aid, even in this crisis.
We’re talking about all our kids! Whatever the address of their school, public or non-governmental, like ours, these kids merit help now.
If more Catholic schools go under, all of society suffers. We’ll look back and say, why did we let them go?
For way too long, our government has sadly dodged its duty to our parents and kids. Reform now—as we “open up” after this coronavirus crisis, through educational scholarship microgrants to our parents—will stop us all from worrying.
If the legendary generosity of our donors continues, and if long-awaited education reform comes through, all our schools could find themselves even stronger in September. Otherwise, we could pay a dear price.

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