Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Education’

Revive Our Catholic Schools

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Here is a great piece on Catholic education from the New York Daily News by Peter Meyer:

Church officials and educators have not given up, and there are numerous initiatives that have been launched in the last 20 years meant to staunch the hemorrhaging. The church’s extensive network of religious orders have picked up some of the educational slack, expanding their networks of schools, especially for the poor…

These are promising initiatives, but in this Holy Season, Catholics should consider their history, especially those times in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when they were not the dominant American religion, but an outcast group. And it was in 1884, at a Baltimore enclave of Bishops, that church leaders ordered every Catholic parish to create a Catholic school and all Catholic parents to send their children to them, creating one of the most successful grassroots church revivals in history.

Read the rest here.

Grit, Pride, Love, and Determination: What Makes Our Catholic Schools Succeed

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

As we begin Catholic Schools Week, let me send an early Valentine to all our wonderful students, teachers, principals, staffs, volunteers, boards, benefactors, parents, parishioners, and clergy who, with God’s grace and the sound heritage we’ve inherited, keep them strong.

We’ve been through a lot of trial. Forty-five years ago, especially as it became obvious that we would soon no longer have the precious resource of a numberless supply of our beloved Sisters, Brothers, and Priests, many predicted the demise of Catholic schools.

My predecessors would not let this happen. Not only were Cardinals Cooke, O’Connor, and Egan personally fervent about the inestimable value of our schools, but they knew you were as well.

Our schools got their problems for sure. But, they’re still the best thing we got for passing on our faith and for providing a first-rate education. Everybody – - friend and foe alike – - acknowledges this.

I sometimes wonder if the trials and hardship that come with our Catholic Schools are actually what make them so good. When you’ve got boards, principals, and priests who have to scrape for every dime; when parents have to sacrifice luxuries and even some essentials to keep their kids in our schools; when grandparents and volunteers pitch in to paint classrooms and repair leaks; when you’ve got teachers who could make a lot more money elsewhere, but freely choose Catholic schools; well, then you’ve got grit, pride, love, and determination.

Hits keep coming. Two weeks ago, the renowned Sisters of the Sacred Heart made the deeply painful decision, in concert with their dedicated board, that their splendid Mother Cabrini High School would not be able to open next fall. And another high school that’s already fighting hard just to stay alive, Monsignor Scanlon, was damaged severely by fire.

Sometimes we feel like saying with St. Theresa of Jesus, “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have very many!”

Yet, the signs of hope are radiantly there. Our regionalization, while still in first gear, is working. The boards that now govern our regional and archdiocesan high schools have brought energy, competence and a sense of ownership. Pathways to Excellence – - our strategic plan for Catholic education – - continues to be implemented, with special attention to renewed Catholic identity, strengthened academic performance, financial stability, and more effective marketing. And there seems a very good chance that Albany will finally come through and approve the Education Investment Tax Credit.

As Sister Diane told me a couple weeks ago when I spent the morning at Santa Maria school in the Bronx, “I love our kids. When I get, tired and discouraged, wondering if it’s worth the massive effort, all I do is look at them. It’s all worth it. We can’t let them down.”

Thanks, everybody, for not letting our kids down.

Ways to Love the Poor with Pope Francis

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Pope Francis is an excellent teacher.  He’s a classical Jesuit, and has himself taught in high school (chemistry and literature, I hear) in Argentina.

An effective pedagogue sets a few clear goals for his class.  “Professor” Francis sure has done so for the Church, for the world, for all God’s children.

Among his goals is a call to love and serve the poor.  No surprise, since this is a clear, clean goal of Jesus in the gospels.

This month of January presents us a chance to grow in our love and service of the poor.

January 20th is the birthday of the Reverend Martin Luther King, a man admired by Pope Francis, a man prophetic in his summons to racial justice and equal opportunity for the poor.

Then, January 22 is the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn Baby.  Is anyone more vulnerable, more fragile, more in need of love, care, and protection than the unborn baby in her mother’s womb?

January 26 – February 2 finds us again in the Feeding Our Neighbor Campaign, as we come together in the cold to collect food to stock our shelters, soup kitchens, and parish pantries, responding to the Lord who said, “When I was hungry you gave me to eat.”

And, January 26 – February 1 is Catholic Schools Week.  The experts tell us that one of the tried-and-true ways of helping the poor escape a trapped-life is by educating the children in one of our excellent Catholic schools.  They’re really the best “War on Poverty” programs around.

Not bad messages — from Jesus and Pope Francis — this first week of the year.

The New York Post Celebrates Catholic Schools

Monday, January 28th, 2013

As we begin National Catholic Schools Week, I’d like to share with you a wonderful editorial published by the New York Post today on our beloved Catholic schools.

In short, the Big Apple’s Catholic schools are doing the job so many public schools are failing to do, and doing it at a much lower cost. Here’s just one comparison: The average cost per pupil for an elementary student in a Catholic school is $6,800 per year. By contrast, taxpayers pay $6,900 just to bus a kid to public school.

Plainly, the 105,398 students in our Catholic schools (about 10 percent of the public-school population) benefit mightily from the education they receive. This, after all, is a system that boasts two alums on the Supreme Court: Justices Antonin Scalia (Xavier Prep in Manhattan) and Sonia Sotomayor (Blessed Sacrament and Cardinal Spellman in The Bronx).

The Catholic schools are also a bargain for New York taxpayers. Multiply those 105,000 students by the city’s average spending per pupil, and the savings easily hit $2 billion a year.

Read the rest here.

God’s Work of Art

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

A year-or-so-ago, on Pentecost Sunday, appropriately, I had one of those rare-but-dramatic moments of divine illumination.

I had just finished celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation for about two-dozen of our special needs children.

None other than the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, had attended that 10:15 Mass at St. Patrick’s that morning, and was very moved by the ceremony.  She graciously asked to meet each of the children and their beaming families.

As I began the introductions, I bought her to our first child.  “Madam President” I began, “this is a wonderful Down Syndrome young man.”

The proud parents, with all the courtesy and respect possible, wisely and properly corrected me.  “Oh, no, Archbishop Dolan and Madam President!  This is Mark, who happens to have Down Syndrome.”

That was a moment of inspiration for me!  I am eternally grateful to those parents.

I trust you understand the essential distinction those loving parents made:  Mark’s identity is a child of God, made in God’s own image and likeness, redeemed by the Precious Blood of God’s only Son, Jesus.  Mark, God’s work of art, happens to have a condition called Down Syndrome.  But, he is hardly identified by the condition that he has.

Get it?  I tell you who expressed it well:  Blessed John Paul II, who said, “Being is much more significant and essential than having or doing.  And the greatest temptation we face is to prefer having and doing more than being.”

Once, as a parish priest, I had the heart-wrenching duty of sitting with a family sobbing over their husband and dad’s suicide.  This young father had sunk into a deep depression six-months previously when he had lost his job.

He had left a note, somberly writing his wife and kids, “I’m of no use to you anymore because I can’t work.”

Never will I forget his ten-year old son tearfully whispering, “But he was still my dad.”

That boy got the distinction: his dad might not be able to do what most dads do — work, so the family could have what they need.  But, he was still his dad.

Being is more important than having or doing.

St. Thomas Aquinas taught — pardon the Latin! — agere sequitur esse – “actions flow from being!”  What we do springs from who we are.

A recovering addict once shared with me that, before the Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady’s Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, after a three week binge that had left him literally in the gutter, he prayed “I am nothing but a helpless, desperate, worthless drunk.”  He kept repeating it, he told me, working himself into a more dungeon-like gloom.  Until he came to his senses, clearly through God’s grace and mercy, and exclaimed, “No, I’m not!  I am child of God, unconditionally loved by Him, made in His very image, destined for an eternity with Him — who happens to be addicted to alcohol!”

His identity was much more than his addiction.  The reaffirmation of his identity led to his recovery.

We are not defined by our addictions, wealth, nationality, color, sexual attraction, urges, popularity, grades, health, age, property, background, résumé, political party, or stock portfolio.

We have an inherent identity, a dignity, from God.

Everything we do, or don’t do — morality – flows from the belief about who we are — provided by our faith.

Today we often hear, “I sure appreciate all the things the Church does — its charities, schools, healthcare, even its worship, feast days, sacraments, and traditions.  But I could care less about what the Church teaches, and can’t understand why our religion is so ‘hung up’ on all that doctrinal stuff.”

I’m afraid those who claim that you got it backwards: all the good things the Church does flows from who we are, the faith we have which provides us our very identity.  We do good stuff precisely because of our faith.

Who we are is infinitely more important than what we have or do.

Welcome Back to School!

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

To our students, dedicated teachers, wonderful staffs and volunteers — welcome back to school!

To our pastors, principals, parents, parishioners and generous patrons, thank you for your passion for Catholic schools!

More than ever am I convinced of the irreplaceable value of our Catholic schools.  From a purely academic point of view, they educate far better than our government schools, with test scores higher and graduation rates near 100%.  That’s why they’re particularly prized in our urban areas, where they offer the best opportunity for our kids — Catholic or not — to receive a first-rate education.

Then there’s that intangible element we might call “environment”: an atmosphere of faith, prayer, discipline, respect, order, virtue, safety, with the presence of Jesus — the One called “Teacher,” “Rabbi,” and “Master” by His students, His disciples — everywhere.

These first two values of our Catholic schools — academics and atmosphere — produce tremendous benefits for our community.  Social scientists tell us that alumni of Catholic schools overwhelmingly go on to college, land better jobs, enter enduring marriages with united families, and take leadership roles in society.  Not bad!  It seems that if you want to reduce unemployment, poverty, broken families, violence, drugs, and crime, you support Catholic schools!

And then there’s the benefit to the Church:  studies by CARA, Pew Center, NORC, Notre Dame, and NCEA show that alumni of Catholic grade schools, high schools, and colleges pray better and more often; know, accept, and practice the teachings of the faith better; are more committed to pro-life and social justice causes; are more likely to consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life; support the Church more generously; volunteer more often; are more faithful to Sunday Mass; and have happier marriages.  Not bad!

Now, believe me, I know our schools are far from perfect, and we cannot loaf.  We have problems galore, most of them addressed by the new strategic plan for our schools, Pathways to Excellence: towering cost, declining enrollments, recruitment and retention of top-notch principals and teachers, curriculum and facilities improvement, better marketing, new governance structure … the list goes on.  Catholic schools require grit, sweat, tears, hard work, and sacrifice, and can cause heartburn and headaches.

But, bottom line:  they are well-worth it.

Funny enough, the wider community needs no convincing of the soaring value of Catholic schools.  We have an impressive array of business, civic, political, and philanthropic leaders, Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, Jewish, agnostic, and even some atheists who are passionately committed to our schools.  Even The New York Times compliments them!

But, I fear a loss of nerve within our Catholic community!

Within the Church I see hand-wringing about the cost, the loss of Catholic identity, the fact that the students and parents don’t show-up at Sunday Mass, and the charge that our commitment to our schools lessens our zeal for other urgent pastoral causes, especially religious education of our children and youth not in our schools.

Yet, the same studies cited above show that it is not an “either-or,” but a “both-and,” since strong Catholic schools bolster all other Church initiatives, while their disappearance diminishes overall Catholic vitality.

I fear as well an attitude that the support of our Catholic schools is only the duty of the parents who have children there.  In this view, a parish without a school has no obligation at all to support other Catholic schools, and a parish blessed with a school might offer a “subsidy” to the school, but shifts the major burden of upkeep to the “school families,” who then are looked upon as “drains” on the rest of the parish.

Such a view, of course, is, simply put, “non-catholic.”  As our tradition, Church teaching, canon law, and cherished Catholic practice reminds us, support of Catholic schools is a duty of the entire Church, even if you may not have a child now in one, or belong to a parish without one.

Finally, I fear a subtle buy-in into what I call the hospice mentality.  Some bishops, priests, pastoral leaders, and Catholic faithful now sigh and say, “Well, we sure love our schools, and they have served us well, but, sadly, their day is over, and twilight is here.  So, the best we can do is make their passing comfortable, and hold their hand while they slowly pass into grateful memory.”

Malarkey!  We need to move from hospice to hope.

And we can’t do business as usual.  To stand back and watch our schools struggle and scrape will only result in an “academic Darwinism” — where only the few fit survive — and a slow shrinking and gradual disappearance.

So, what do we do?  We do what those before us have done.  We renew passion, face reality, and boldly plan for the future.  We recover our dare and quit whining.

Pathways to Excellence calls for ongoing improvement internally, with realistic attention to quality teachers and principals, improvement of math and science scores, reassertion of Catholic identity, and aggressive marketing.

And it offers solid hope for future financial support.

Yes, some of our schools will have to merge or even close in the future.  I wish there were a way around it.  If the vine is to grow it must be pruned.  Two-or-three struggling schools can combine into one strong one, becoming regional.  This process requires wide consultation, constant communication, and careful collaboration.  If we do not consolidate some of our schools into regions, all will suffer.  If we prudently come together, all will be helped.  New ones can open; others can be expanded.

Two, while the classic model of a parish school should still remain the norm, we must admit that the days of expecting a parish by itself to support its school are coming to an end.  So, all parishes help, and the archdiocese continues its effective financial support — made so strong by Cardinal Egan — for our schools.  Parishes selling or leasing former convents or schools have an obligation in justice to see that this income is used as the original donors intended:  to support Catholic schools.

And new models of governance, such as regional schools, where two-or-three neighboring schools, all struggling, come together into one strong center, collaboratively governed by a board of the parishes’ pastors and faithful, must be encouraged.

None of this is new.  Our Catholic schools have had to scrape and fight from the very beginning, since, sadly and unjustly, the high taxes our parents pay for education cannot follow their children to the school of their choice, even if that school educates twice-as-well at half-the-price.  One of the big reasons we are so strong is because our schools have never been on easy street, and have had to show amazing grit and determination.

So, although I’ve enumerated some fears, I’m not afraid.  We’ve been through this before.  We reclaim our communal obligation to support our schools, even when our own parish might not have one, or when our family might not have children now in them.  We move from hospice to hope, putting an end to that subtle temptation to assume our schools are slowly dying, that it’s just a matter of time.  We stop the turf battles, charging unfairly that support of our schools chokes other pastoral programs, or, the opposite, expecting all parish income only to go to the school.  And we get real, admitting that we have some rough decisions about consolidating and even closing, thus making the rest even stronger.

Just remember:  it’s all worth it!

Welcome back to school!

Education Reform

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial written by Micheal Flaherty on Catholic education reform.

Here is an excerpt from the editorial:

Parent Revolution has made national news in its ongoing attempt to use California’s new “parent trigger” law, which allows parents to transform a failing school by, among other things, replacing it with a charter school. Parents have already filed a charter petition in the Compton Unified School District, where only 47% of students graduate and less than 2% go to college. It is this injustice that enrages Ms. Serrato and Ms. Sanchez, both 20-somethings who attended Los Angeles public schools and then graduated from Stanford and Yale, respectively.

You can read the whole editorial here.

I also came across an interesting article in the City Journal written by Sol Stern. He writes about Pathways to Excellence, a strategic plan to revitalize Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

In recent years, urban dioceses across the country—for example, in Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—have belatedly concocted strategic plans, trying desperately to reverse the downward spiral. Others, such as Chicago’s, are beginning the planning process. But the most ambitious of all the efforts to date is Pathways to Excellence, which the Archdiocese of New York unveiled last October. The reforms that Pathways will execute—coupled with several that it hasn’t proposed—might just manage to save New York’s vital Catholic schools.

You can read the whole article here.

Education Hearing

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Today, I participated in a budget hearing in Albany. Here are my remarks regarding the 2011-2012 Education Budget:

TESTIMONY OF THE NEW YORK STATE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE REGARDING THE 2011-2012 EDUCATION BUDGET

Albany, New York
February 15, 2011

Good afternoon, Senator DeFrancisco, Senator Flanagan, Assemblyman Farrell, Assemblywoman Nolan and honorable members, my name is Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.   Joining me today is Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools for the archdiocese, and Jim Cultrara, Director for Education at the NYS Catholic Conference, which I am honored to serve as president.

I am grateful for this opportunity to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals related to elementary and secondary education.  It is my hope and prayer that my comments help you shape a state budget that is fair, just and prudent.  I am honored to address distinguished public officials such as yourselves, and deeply appreciate your high interest in education.  I am here on behalf of the approximately 200,000 students in the state of New York in our Catholic schools, (the largest non-governmental school system in our state), young people and their parents of every religion or none at all, of every ethnic and economic background.  I am speaking for them.

While my formal written testimony addresses numerous areas where our schools are in need of assistance, I will limit my oral remarks to just three of them.

First is the area of Mandated Services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) Reimbursement:

The Governor is proposing an 8 percent cut in Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) and CAP reimbursement funding.  This proposed cut is on top of the 6 percent shortfall from last year’s state budget which itself was on top of cuts in reimbursement from the previous two years.  Are you sensing a theme here?  This 8 percent cut, I might add, is greater than the 7.3 percent cut to governmental schools.

Keep in mind that the state is already delinquent on reimbursement to religious and independent schools for mandates carried out by our schools dating as far back as the 2002-03 school year.  We estimate the state’s obligation to our schools to be more than $260 million, and as a result of the state’s delinquency, our schools have been forced to raise tuition to fill the gap.  Tragically, others have had to close because our families cannot bear the burden.

The blame for this growing debt falls squarely on the State Education Department which has yet to officially calculate their obligation to our schools under the 37-year old Mandated Services statute.   Part of the reason for the delay is that, in order to address an error the department made several years ago, they changed the CAP reimbursement formula to cover less than the full costs incurred by schools, and the department continues to use that faulty and unjust formula.

We recognize that the current fiscal situation will make it difficult for the state to satisfy its legal obligation.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that you begin to do so.  Accordingly, we urge you to do the following:

-          First, direct the State Education Department to correct their error and revert to using the originally agreed-upon CAP formula;

-          Second, insist that the State Education Department immediately provide an official accounting of the total amount that would be needed to fully reimburse our schools for the actual costs they have incurred beginning in the 2002-2003 school year to the present; and

-          Third, appropriate sufficient funds this coming fiscal year in order to keep the debt from growing any further and to ensure that the claims from each school can be fully paid.  We estimate the amount needed ranges from $50 to $60 million more than what the Governor recommended.

The second area is the MTA Payroll Tax:

As you know, the MTA payroll tax is costing our parents approximately $7 million dollars every year.  Governor Cuomo’s budget includes $70 million to reimburse public schools for their MTA costs, and not a dime for students in non-governmental schools.  Our schools do not have reserve funds or tax levy authority like their public school counterparts.  Our only options are to raise tuition and/or reduce services to students to cover this tax.  Higher tuition means fewer kids in our schools and greater strain on the public system and your budgets.

We are grateful for the efforts being made thus far to remedy this injustice.  I specifically want to thank Speaker Silver for his commitment and the full Assembly for having passed an MTA chapter amendment last year.  I also want to thank Senator Skelos, Senator Lanza and Senator Golden for leading the effort in the Senate this year.

While there is support from both sides of the aisle in each chamber, it is vital that you not let another year slip by without fixing the problem.  I urge you to include $7.5 million in the 2011-12 state budget to reimburse religious and independent schools for their MTA costs and to permanently include our children to the reimbursement entitlement in statute.

The third and most fundamental area is that of Parental Choice:

It is in the area of parental choice that we see the gravest injustice perpetrated on families, no matter whether it’s a family with children in public school or a family with children in a Catholic or Baptist school, Yeshiva, or some other independent school.

Let me reiterate an argument that I know you’ve heard before.  There are thousands of children trapped in chronically low-performing government schools — schools that have been proven to be ineffective.  The cost to the taxpayer and society in general is exorbitant.  The cost to the family, in the form of shattered hopes and dreams and lost human potential, is far deeper and more painful.

I stand with you in support of our public schools.  All I’m asking is that our support be for all our kids, whether they’re in government or independent schools.  The leadership of the public school teachers’ unions has a vested interest in and a responsibility to support their members – the vast majority of whom are dedicated and hardworking teachers who deserve our support.   However, the unions’ advocacy interests in this case conflict with the interests and needs of thousands of ordinary children and families.  The majority of these families will continue to choose public schools for their children.  But protecting jobs for adults justifies neither the burden on the taxpayer nor the violation of the rights of children who are forced to remain in schools that don’t serve them and that are likely unsafe.  Schools exist to serve children and should not be considered employment programs.

Our government is empowered to remove a child from a neglectful home – and rightfully so.  But why then isn’t a family empowered to remove their child from a government-run school that is neglecting their education or perhaps even their safety?  The only means of escape for these children is if their family has enough money to move them to another school, or if they win a seat in a charter school.  And what about the families whose children are enrolled in an independent school?  These families are shouldering the dual burden of taxes to support public schools and tuition to support their own children’s education.   Why can’t they get some of their own tax money back to help support their own children?

Perhaps some fear that supporting a broader parental choice program will harm public schools.  I’m here to tell you that you need not be afraid.

Just look at the experience in Milwaukee where we have the oldest and broadest parental choice programs in the country.  Opponents of parental choice argued that choice would decimate the public schools.  In fact, just the opposite happened.  Not only did public school expenditures rise, but so did public school enrollment and academic achievement.

But how can that be if more children were being enrolled in religious and independent schools?  Don’t take it from me, just ask former Milwaukee public officials, including Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee school superintendent, who argue that parental choice helped to revitalize the city and, as a result, people began moving their families back into the city.  Having served as the Archbishop of Milwaukee, I can attest to the fact that broad-based parental choice programs benefit all children in all schools.

Some will argue that we cannot afford parental choice programs.  Again, the opposite is true – we cannot afford not to enact parental choice.  If you continue to support only public schools, including charter schools, instead of all our children, then you will only exacerbate the fiscal crisis you are desperately and laudably trying to resolve, since the data clearly shows that we educate our children better for half the cost.  Simply put, helping our independent schools also helps our public schools and our budget!

The Governor proposes $250 million in new spending to reward academic improvement in public schools.  If you want academic success, you need to look no further than the New York’s religious and independent schools.  But do the 200,000 students in our schools get rewarded?  Quite the contrary.

The Governor also proposes another $250 million to reward administrative efficiencies in public schools.  Not only are New York’s religious and independent schools the most efficient, but our families – the families who sacrifice to pay public school taxes and private school tuition – are saving New York taxpayers at least $8 BILLION each and every year!  Where is their reward?  They don’t even get a thank you.  All they get are higher taxes and higher tuition.

I’m not surprised that our parents and kids are angry.  They know you support public schools – and that’s fine – so do they.  They know you support the growth of charter schools – and that’s fine too.  But they want to know why you are not supporting them as well.

As the public sector expands, the religious and independent sector is shrinking – and it is taxpaying families who pay the price.  Please reverse this trend.  We urge you to enact a scholarship or education tax credit program that will provide meaningful assistance to enable parents to choose the school best suited for their children.

All I’m asking is that, in justice, when you laudably move to promote education, it be for all our kids, not just those in government schools.

While this concludes my oral remarks, I offer additional areas in my written testimony.

My prayers and best wishes are with you.  I thank you for your time and consideration.  We are more than happy to answer any question you may have.