There's an interesting back story to the visit of Gov.
Of course, they are not called vouchers, but scholarships, and the money does not
come directly out of the state treasury.
The program is not a new one. The state has had this Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) for years. It amounts to $75 million. Last year, though, the legislature expanded the program to target schools in poor neighborhoods. This amounts to $50 million and this program is called Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC).
Enough with the acronyms already.
Corbett went to St. Martin of Tours School in
Corbett was also there to mark creation of an
With aggressive fundraising -- and with programs to steer parents to the EITC and OSTC scholarships -- the future of these schools looks bright. That's a day-versus-night contrast to just a few years ago when most of these schools were holding on to existence by their fingernails.
In fact, the concept of a "mission school" wasn't even part of the archdiocese's lexicon then. These were just parish schools in poor neighborhoods.
For more than a decade, the leadership of the archdiocese dithered over what to do about its Catholic schools -- all of which were facing broad declines in enrollment.
As the seats emptied, and without any firm guidance from headquarters, pastors began admitting non-Catholics -- children whose parents were drawn to the discipline and emphasis on morals in the schools and who could cough up to $3,000 or so in tuition charged non-Catholics.
Some of these schools -- the
For most others, though, it was a matter of pragmatism: a way to keep the schools open even if they did not exclusively serve the Catholic population.
Over time, non-Catholic enrollment increased in the schools. Today, in the 15 mission schools in Philly (there is another one in Lansdowne), enrollment of non-Catholics averages 70 percent. In some schools, it runs in the 90's. (A list of the Philly Mission schools is appended below.)
With a few exceptions, these schools are not at capacity. Enrollment in the 15 totals about 4,000 children. With active recruitment of EITC- and OSTC-eligible parents it could probably double. The same is true with Catholic parish schools that are not in poor neighborhoods. The generous income guidelines of EITC allow them to get scholarships, too.
In short, Catholic education -- on the ropes a few years ago -- has been given a chance to not only survive, but also to expand its role in the city.
For parents -- Catholic and non-Catholic alike -- this is good news. It adds another choice to a list that already includes the local public school, charters, private schools and home-schooling through cyber-charters.
A lot of credit should go to Archbishop Charles Chaput, head of the
Had Rigali still been in charge there is no doubt the panel's recommendations would have been enacted.
But, Chaput reversed many of the decisions and decided to give many schools a second chance. The concept of Mission Schools was born. This newly-created independent board is the result.
The pastors and principals who hung on for all of those years of drift at the top did the right thing. By opening up enrollment to non-Catholics they found a new mission for those schools. In the long Era of Dithering under Cardinals Bevilacqua and Rigali, they improvised -- and survived.
Sometimes the most creative thing you can do is just hang on and hope for a better day.
-- Tom Ferrick
|Philadelphia Mission Schools|
|Holy Cross, Mount Airy||158||89%|
|Mary Mother of Peace, Southwest Philadelphia||296||64%|
|Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius of Loyola, West Philadelphia||162||85%|
|St. Francis Cabrini Regional, Overbrook||202||71%|
|St. Gabriel, Gray's Ferry||193||53%|
|St. Helena-Incarnation Regional, Olney||339||41%|
|St. Malachy, North Philadelphia||215||90%|
|St. Martin de Porres, North Philadelphia||365||92%|
|St. Martin of Tours, Oxford Circle (Northeast Philadelphia)||492||26%|
|St. Peter the Apostle, North Philadelphia||264||80%|
|St. Raymond of Penafort, Germantown||264||80%|
|St. Rose of Lima, West Philadelphia||202||71%|
|St. Thomas Aquinas, South Philadelphia||234||64%|
|St. Veronica, North Philadelphia||301||30%|
|The DePaul School, Germantown||317||91%|