This blog started out as a companion piece to my book, Musings from the Christian Left (excerpts of which can be found in the July 2004 link) and to support a planned radio show. Now, its simply a long term writing project from a Christian Left Libertarian perspective (meaning I often argue for liberty within the (Catholic) Church, rather than liberty because the church takes care of a conservative view of morality.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

CCD, charter schools, reform in the Church, teachers unions and taxes

Today we are taking out daughter to CCD for the first time this year. She is in first grade, so if she wishes to take first Communion next year at grade level, she must go.

That part doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that I would prefer that she be able to go to Catholic school like I did full time. Back in the day, my father made more than I do with inflation, although not necessarily more than my wife and I. What is killing us is housing cost and the cost of tuition. Our local school is more of an elite school than St. Pius X in San Antonio, although not too terribly so, since the tuition is not much more than her daycare was. Still, the extra $700 a month it would take is an amount we do not have (indeed, my college tuition was cheaper in the 1980s).

If we lived in DC in certain neighborhoods, we could send my daughter to a Charter school run by the former parochial school personnel but now funded by the District government. This is a model I suggested to the Archdiocese back when I was working for Mayor Barry. Economic circumstances drove them to it when the only other choice was to close these schools and leave the children to an aging public system. The Catholic schools in Alexandria face no such economic pressure and there is no move to charter schools here, since the schools here we have are quite good. Additionally, you will find that the divide between who is in public school and who is in private school has a bit of a racial component and there seems no move to change that either.
More importantly, the Virginia Constitution has a Blaine Amendment. It is illegal to fund Catholic schools of any stripe. This amendment is an example of anti-Catholic bigotry and will likely be overturned on equal protection grounds. The perception when the amendment was enacted was that the Catholic Church was an agent of a foreign power. Given that the Pope actually controlled most of Italy at the time and that many Catholics were recent immigrants, that fear was understandable, as was the Church's medieval form of governance. Many Protestant denominations had returned by this time to biblical norms of democracy.

While strong control of the appointment of bishops is necessary when national governments would do so instead (like in Russia or China under the Communists), it is no longer necessary when the underlying society has full democratic rights. Indeed, much of the lingering resentment at (and indeed within) the Church has to do with the fact that most Bishops look to Rome rather than to their own flocks for their authority. In ancient times, God was seen to speak through the entire people of God - which means the collected laity rather than the collected bishops. It does not help that the property held by the Church is in the Bishop's name and controlled by him. In an era when it is quite easy to set up a foundation to own and control that property and the underlying institutions, personal episcopal control is no longer required. Indeed, the office of deacon is meant to be a stewardship office, so that the bishops and priests are not distracted by such worldly matters as a new roof or the hiring of teachers. Recognizing and negotiating with a teachers union is a lot easier if you are a deacon in service to the community than it is if you are a bishop jealously guarding your authority, as most due in such negotiations.

Indeed, much of the resistance to funding Catholic schools is no longer from the right wing - it comes from the teachers unions. That is easily resolved by conditioning acceptance of these funds on allowing collective bargaining with an independent board. Most of the faithful would think this reasonable, especially those of us who cannot afford Catholic schools currently. Oddly enough, most of us were also the Obama voters in the Church.

The final issue is funding. The answer is not to simply take money from current public school systems to fund Catholic charter schools. Rather, there must be an increase in funds, since current Catholic school students would also benefit. This means taxes must increase. Because these students often come from a higher economic class, this tax should hit that class more heavily and fully fund the additional cost. This means either shifting away from property taxes to income tax funding of education (leaving property taxes to take care of transportation and public safety) or in setting a surtax on higher value residential property (including rental), if not both. Of course, because the tax increase would be more broad based than simply taxing current Catholic school parents, the added burden on each taxpayer would still be less while the benefits for current parents would be more substantial.

The benefits for current kids in CCD would be inestimable, however, since they would receive an education in an entirely different atmosphere than the public schools - from discipline to Christ centeredness. Such benefits are inestimable and I want that for my daughter five days a week, rather than 90 minutes a week.

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