Some years ago, while on a college tour to Cal State Monterey Bay with my oldest son, I found out how well Catholic education prepared me for college. During orientation, the potential students were separated from us potential tuition payers so the parents could get an idea of what we were going to have to pay.
When the PowerPoint on book fees, dorm fees, class fees, etc., was over, I was feeling OK. I had been paying for my kids’ education in Catholic school for years. But as I looked around the room, I saw people picking up their jaws from the floor. I thought to myself: What are these people complaining about? Sure, it was not free, but the Cal State system is a relative bargain compared to the UC system or private college.
Then it dawned on me. Many of these people had just spent 12 years in the public school system.
For many Catholic parents, especially hard-working parents in low-wage jobs, living in one of the most expensive cities on the planet, a Catholic education is out of reach. They are faced with very few alternatives. Some may choose home-schooling, but the overwhelming majority must rely on the public education system.
The public option has proven vulnerable to a pandemic, but even more dangerous than microscopic viruses, children are exposed to agenda-driven curricula in many public schools that not only fail to conform to Church teaching, but vociferously renounce it.
The number of Catholic parents in this system unhappy with the status quo must be legion. But at the same time, working parents scrambling to zero out their family budgets each month after taking care of food, shelter, utilities, and other expenses are probably grateful the state of California picks up the tab for K-12 education to the tune of $12,000 per year and per student.
But what if those parents had another option? What if they truly had a choice?
Now, “choice” is a word that has had a lot of violence perpetrated against it. It has been hijacked by the pro-abortion industry to mean something very dark, but it is a good word, particularly when it means enabling something objectively true and good, like parents exercising their God-given right to educate their child.
If you have never heard of the Education Freedom Act, it is due to the fact that this initiative process is in its embryonic stage. A working title, the Education Freedom Act will hopefully find its way on the November 2022 ballot in California. If it does, Californians can change the education landscape in a major way.
It is not a reform of the public school system. It is a reshaping of how we, as a community, provide the resources to parents to educate children. In simple terms, the initiative will provide each parent with an education savings account for every child grades K-12. Parents will have access to $12,000 for each child’s tuition in these accounts, and they may use those funds for tuition at the school of their choice. If the parent is pleased with his public school, the money will be directed there. If the parent wants a different education experience, even a Catholic one, the funds under this initiative could be directed there.
Michael Alexander is a Pasadena-based lawyer who is spearheading this campaign. He took that idea of “choice” in education and placed it within the confines of a 501c(4) nonprofit corporation called the California School Choice Foundation.
According to Alexander, “The Freedom of Education Act can be seen as Pope Francis’ urging that there be a preferential option toward the poor put into action.”
The Freedom of Education Act may be the crest of a wave of rethinking education that has been spurred along by the pandemic. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported there are 50 school-choice bills being considered in 30 states. So, though the wave is getting larger, the control of how children are being educated is getting narrower — namely closer to the source of the family.
When a church sticks around for 2,000 years and has over a billion adherents, it tends to collect things. Some of those things are big words like “subsidiarity.” It means keeping things as local as possible when it comes to social doctrines. How much more local can we get, with parents having the means to choose how and what their children will learn?
Imagine the single immigrant mom working two jobs just to keep food on the table having the same resources to send her children to a Catholic school as the doctor or lawyer whose house she may clean.