The U.S. bishops’ conference praised a Trump administration plan to expand school choice Wednesday, as Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to a Catholic school in inner-city Philadelphia.
In a statement released Feb. 5, USCCB education committee chair Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, of the Diocese of Oakland, and Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, praised President Donald Trump, Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for their commitment to school choice, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its expansive scholarship tax credit programs.
“The right of parents to exercise freedom of choice in education is firmly rooted in the teachings of our Catholic faith,” said the bishops in the statement. In the USCCB document “Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium,” published in 2005, the bishops explained that it was the entire Catholic community’s job to advocate for school choice programs, including personal and corporate tax credits.
“We applaud the goals of Education Freedom Scholarships and hope to one day see the opportunity for all families to have the freedom to select a school according to their conscience,” said the bishops.
Pence and DeVos visited St. Francis de Sales School in West Philadelphia on Wednesday, hours after President Trump spoke in favor of school choice during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
During the speech, Trump informed Janiyah Davis, a fourth-grader who attends a low-performing public school in Philadelphia, that she would be receiving a scholarship to attend a different school. Davis and her mother attended the speech as guests of the president.
“Janiyah, I have some good news for you -- because I am pleased to inform you that your long wait is over,” said Trump to Davis. “I can proudly announce tonight that an Opportunity Scholarship has become available, it is going to you, and you will soon be heading to the school of your choice.”
DeVos will be personally funding the scholarship awarded to Davis.
During Pence’s visit to St. Francis de Sales, he praised Pennsylvania for “leading the way” on school choice. The vice president said school choice is “not a partisan issue,” although those who are in favor of charter schools or scholarships often face opposition. He echoed Trump’s State of the Union, saying that “No parent should be forced to send their child to a failing government school.”
DeVos also spoke at the event.
“Pennsylvania families want more education freedom,” Devos told the crowd at St. Francis. She said that the type of school a child attends, whether it be charter, public, or private, should not matter, and instead people should “focus on what truly matters: students and their learning."
St. Francis de Sales is run by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (I.H.M.). Six IHM sisters work at the school.
Sister Mary McNulty, IHM, is the principal of the school. She told the Philadelphia Inquirer that nearly nine out of 10--87%--of students enrolled at the school receive a scholarship. The tuition at St. Francis de Sales school is $5,200 per year, or $4,000 per child per year for families who send multiple children to the school.
McNulty told the Inquirer that the scholarship programs “mean everything to me,” and that she “gladly hosted” Pence and DeVos. She hopes the scholarship program would be expanded to a federal program.
“If this would go to the federal level, we could help so many more families,” she said.