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Summit On Faith Based Schools More Powerful Than Money

Mar 14, 2008
During his final State of the Union Address, President Bush announced two proposals for faith-based schools; one, a grants program for low-income students similar to Pell Grants for college students, and the other a national Presidential summit on faith-based education.

The summit is more important than the grants program.

The proposed appropriate for grants is $300 million, too miserly to fill the likely demand for such grants, and it is unlikely to win the approval of a Democratic Congress.

However, presidents rarely use the power of their office to conduct summits on domestic policy; presidential summits are more typically used in discuss foreign relations and trade.

Growing up Jewish, attending public schools, I am less familiar with the merits of parochial school education over public education. However, I know that parochial schools are not subject to No Child Left Behind and do not have dealings with teacher's unions. They can also pass on students who have special educational needs. I would also perceive the marketplace dynamic for parochial education to be similar to private colleges; the best endowed and the most-focused schools are the most selective while the rest struggle to provide scholarships or recruit students who can pay tuition.

But would parochial school leaders want to submit their schools to government regulations, as colleges must do, if a federal grant program were put in place? For instance, all colleges that receive Federal assistance must welcome military recruiters on campus. How would a pacifist religious order reconcile their financial need with their values in that situation? Then there is the issue of tuition. Members of Congress in both parties have proposed legislation to force colleges and universities to become accountable for tuition increases. I can understand why; the House and Senate cannot be expected to increase financial aid at the same rate as colleges raise tuition. But would Congress ask parochial schools to be equally accountable if they enroll students who receive federal assistance?

Then there is No Child Left Behind with its reporting policies and "qualified teacher" requirements. Today, parochial schools cannot offer salary and benefits packages competitive with public schools. They would be in a less competitive position if they were mandated to seek qualified teachers.

I realize that some readers will find these arguments silly, but it seems hypocritical to me that a presidential administration that has demanded greater accountability from public schools would ask Congress to fund grants to help students attend parochial schools -- then not subject the parochial schools to the same accountability. It would be akin to saying that parochial school education is superior to public education without asking the parochial schools to prove it.

Leading parochial school educators and graduates have every right to say their education is superior -- they have delivered and received benefits from parochial schools - but a President cannot take that position public, as Bush has done by a proposing a summit.
About the Author
Stuart Nachbar has been involved with education politics, policy and technology as a student, urban planner, government affairs manager, software executive, and now as author of The Sex Ed Chronicles. Visit his blog, Educated Quest.
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