A Time to Speak – Expanding opportunities for all children

Fr. Henriksen
Fr. Henriksen

Legislation presently before the Kentucky legislature seeks to provide individuals and businesses with a tax credit when they donate funds to scholarship granting organizations.

These organizations, which include the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF), in turn would be able to expand need-based assistance available to students attending nonpublic schools.

Opponents of the legislation suggest that this common sense measure hurts public schools. Wrong! Indeed a viable set of educational options should be available to serve all our children, regardless of their household income or disability.

The record of Catholic schools in offering quality learning opportunities to all students, regardless of their economic or racial background, is a demonstrable fact.

Another demonstrable fact is this: our public school system also needs assistance. In urging the legislature to adopt “Educational Choice” legislation, be sure to also remind your local representatives that our public school system, JCPS and others, need their support.

State support for K-12 public education has suffered, due to both the recession as well as financial pressures from other important programs, over the recent time period. A healthy and vital private and public school system is vital to our future!

We know that pending tax credit legislation will make Catholic education a more affordable option for parents. In combination with CEF development efforts; the implementation of assistance opportunities administered at the archdiocesan level; and especially parish-based generosity, Catholic schools are already moving in the direction of making education we provide more accessible and affordable.

In the current year, the school ministry at Ascension will benefit from nearly $100,000 in tuition assistance provided by the parish; CEF; and a special 1 percent assessment imposed upon all 110 parishes of the archdiocese.

This level of aid doubles that provided only two years ago! Is it any wonder that Ascension’s enrollment has grown from 168 in 2013 to 236 in 2016? Money does matter in school choice, as does quality instruction, proven results and exceptional teachers and staff!

When contacting your local legislator concerning tax credit legislation, recall that the wealthy can already choose the school best meeting their children’s needs. For the vast proportion of others, including those with more modest incomes, including the working class and the poor, genuine choice among our educational systems is but a dream.

Become advocates for both your local parish school ministry as well as the public enterprise in your neighborhoods. Again, we all benefit when a system of public and private education is healthy and vital.

And let us also remember the many ways in which our public and Catholic systems partner in advancing educational opportunity. This past summer, JCPS and the archdiocese collaborated in making available an expanded array of opportunities for kindergarten preparation. These partnerships should also continue!

Some would suggest that the options before our legislature are “either/or”: either support the public system or assist nonpublic structures. Again, wrong! We are a church of the “both/and,” which, in this case means support for private as well as public education.

Scholarship tax credit legislation, presently in the form of House Bill 162 and Senate Bill 102, offers Catholics a chance to be “both/and.” Advocating for the needs of JCPS and other public systems offers us a chance to be “both/and.”

Let us become builders of bridges between our Catholic and public school systems. For when we do, opportunities for all our children abound.

Father Steven Henriksen is the pastor of the Church of the Ascension

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