Monday, July 25, 2005

Lagniappe: Letter to Fr. Maestri and the Clarion Herald on Parental Choice in Education - Fr. William Maestri, the Archidiocese of New Orleans' Superintendent of Education, has been an ardent and outspoken proponent of "parental choice" in education. This is code for being an advocate for school vouchers. In this editorial, Fr. Maestri praises the passage of State House Bill 613, which paves the way for a voucher program. He considers this Bill to be a "historic victory for children, familes, and education." For a sample of the effusiveness of his praise, read these words by Fr. Maestri:

There are many to commend for this historic victory. Rep. Burns, a freshman in the House, embraced parental choice as if it were his issue for all of his young life. He showed political prudence, patience and a genuine desire to make things better for our children and community.

A true hero and leader was New Orleans Rep. Austin Badon. He dared to put children first. He dared to speak, vote and act on behalf of what is in the best interest of Orleans Parish and our schools. He was not a politician but a true statesman whose courage and conviction were inspiring and instrumental for the outcome. New Orleans is fortunate to have such a leader.

Many members of the Louisiana House of Representatives broke with the old voices who continue to accept failure and lack of opportunity for children. These courageous members dared to think in new ways in order to combat the all-familiar voices of poor education and poverty. They indicated they, in the name of Louisiana, were ready for a new day. Such a new day centers on making things better for all our citizens, especially our children who live in poverty.
Sounds great, doesn't it! Fr. Maestri's selfless devotion to the best educational interests of children seem evident, no? But, as highly as I might think of the cause, I have it on good authority that Fr. Maestri seems to be more interested in boosting the declining enrollments of Diocesan-supported Catholic Elementary and Middle schools, than what is in the best educational interests of the City's poorest children. I have it on good authority that Fr. Maestri is a staunch opponent of having independent (that is, non-diocesan-controlled) Catholic High Schools open up affiliated Catholic elementary and middle schools. Now why would someone supposedly looking out for the best educational interests of the City's poorest children be opposed to such a possibility? Well, my speculation is that it is because such schools would out-compete the Diocesan schools, and that voucher funds, should they become available, would go to the Dominican Sisters or the Jesuits or the Christian Brothers, rather than to the Diocesan coffers.

But, I want to give Fr. Maestri the benefit of the doubt. I want him to prove that he is not really opposed to options that are in the best educational interests of the City's poorest children by openly declaring his position on the creation of such "alternative" Catholic elementary and middle schools. I want him to say that if Brother Martin High School or if Jesuit High School wanted to start up a middle school at no expense to the Diocese in the wake of the creation of a voucher program, he would lend his full support to this option. So, to that effect, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Clarion Herald on the subject. I sent it via email and via snail mail. Here is what I wrote:
Attn: Editor
Clarion Herald
P.O. Box 53247
New Orleans, La. 70153

Dear Editor:

As a product of the New Orleans Catholic School system from grade 1 through college, I applaud Fr. Maestri for his unyielding and tenacious fight for the rights of children to have the best education possible. Fr. Maestri's persistent efforts to lobby the Louisiana State Legislature for a voucher program that would ostensibly help poor children to attend private or parochial schools is a fine demonstration of his resolve. We should all be inspired by his indefatigable fight to provide the best educational opportunities for our City's poorest children.

In the spirit of his example and his commitment to the best interests of our children, I would like to encourage Fr. Maestri to go one step further. And it's an easy step, too, given Fr. Maestri's position as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese. Why don't Maestri and the Archdiocese encourage the New Orleans Metro area's best Catholic High Schools to open up and run elementary and middle schools? Such schools would be wildly popular, financially secure, and unreliant on the thinning Archdiocesan coffers.

Imagine children going to such fine centers of Catholic education as "Brother Martin" or "Dominican" Elementary Schools, or "St. Augustine" or "Archbishop Chapelle" Middle Schools! With or without vouchers, what a marvellous opportunity for the City's children that would be!

Surely Fr. Maestri's dogged commitment to the best interests of the City's poorest children (not to mention his good, conservative Catholic values) wouldn't be shaken by a little competition between St. Dominic School and "Jesuit Elementary," even if it meant not filling ALL the seats of what would surely become its less-competitive and less-desirable Archdiocesan-run elementary and middle schools? Just a thought from someone inspired by Fr. Maestri's admirable and unselfish commitment to seek the best educational options for our city's poorest children.
I don't expect the Clarion Herald to publish this letter; nor do I expect a personal response from the Archdiocese or from Fr. Maestri. But I do want not only them, but also my blog readers, to know that I'm calling them on the subject. And if you want to call the Diocese and Fr. Maestri out on the subject, feel free to send out your own letter of support as well.

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