Friday, July 29, 2005

School Board: Catholic Schools and Tax Dollars - I continue to be amazed at the inconsistencies in the New Orleans Archdiocesan Educational Office's single-minded fascination with State Government as an answer to the money woes of the Catholic school system. It is all the more interesting to me given that the Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Fr. William Maestri, pretends to be a social and fiscal conservative. Fr. Maestri is obviously a Republican cleric who constantly criticizes big-government, tax-and-spend liberalism. But he spares no effort to get the State Government to adopt a voucher program that would put more and more money into the Archdiocesan coffers. Although Fr. Maestri speaks of the voucher program in terms of "parental choice" in education, it is also patently clear to me that he's also in it for the money. A recent article in the Archdiocesan Newspaper, the Clarion Herald, in a moment of unguarded candor, highlights this fact:

Among the biggest challenges is finding the money to meet the needs of Catholic education in the inner city. There are 24 inner-city Catholic schools with a total population of about 10,000 students, and many are kept financially afloat by parish giving and archdiocesan subsidies totaling more than $1.5 million annually.

About 60 percent of students in inner-city Catholic schools are non-Catholic, but Father Maestri said the church has a commitment to offer quality education "to people of every race, creed, color, religion, national origin and socioeconomic status."

"Catholic education is a true gift, one that requires constant maintenance and a constant openness to where the Holy Spirit is calling us to serve," Father Maestri said. "Catholic education and the entire state of Louisiana are uniquely joined in an incredible relationship for the common good. Catholic education has contributed mightily to the well-being of our city and state in all facets of life."

Father Maestri said the archdiocese is open to the possibility of taking over a failing elementary school in Orleans Parish as early as the 2006-07 school year. He will meet with state education superintendent Cecil Picard to discuss the details of a possible takeover.

THE archdiocese also will continue its lobbying efforts for a pilot voucher program for students in failing Orleans Parish public schools.
In other words, if the financially failing Catholic elementary schools in the City can't make it in the current educational market, what's the solution? What else: GOVERNMENT! That's right, stop asking other successful and wealthy suburban parishes to subsidize the inner city Catholic Schools and get the State Government to do it. Why rely on private charity and personal incomes to pay for Catholic schooling when the state can do it for you!

If Fr. Maestri were a big government, tax-and-spend liberal Democrat, then I could perhaps understand his fixation on Government as a solution to the financial crisis facing the Archdiocesan Catholic school system. But, he's not a big government liberal. Or at least he pretends not to be when it doesn't serve his company's own financial interests.

Maestri's lobbying of the State for a voucher program rather reminds me of Tom Benson's efforts to get the State to fork over taxpayer dollars to subsidize a losing professional football team in ways that secure his bottom-line profit margins.

Call me a cynical SOB, but it seems to me that Fr. Maestri is not really against Government telling people how to spend their own tax dollars. He just wants to make sure that people can only use these vouchers on educational services and that his company is one of the State's few preferred (but unaccountable) vendors of such services that taxpayers can patronize.

As I said before, if Fr. Maestri were really interested in the best educational opportunities for children, he'd be begging the Catholic High Schools run by religious orders, given their excellent and proven abilities for fundraising scholarships for needy kids and building up endowments AND their financial independence from the Archdiocese, to open up and run feeder elementary and middle schools. But I'm not holding my breath because it would risk putting the non-competitive Archdiocesan schools out of business.

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