The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging support for a federal school choice bill that is poised to aid families whose children attend Catholic schools.

The Educational Choice for Children Act (ECCA) – S. 4416 and H.R. 8137 – would create a new tax credit for donors who give to scholarship awards, which would increase available scholarship funding.

In a letter to the bill’s sponsors, Bishop Thomas A. Daly, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education, pointed to the teaching of the Church, which maintains “that parents are the first and primary teachers of their children and therefore have the right to select the best educational environment for their children. Whether that is public, homeschool or private school, parents know the needs of their children.

“In addition to parents having the duty to educate their children, the Catholic Church also teaches that parents should have access to government resources to successfully meet the educational needs of their children.”

The legislation, which has garnered support from entities like the Invest in Education Coalition, has been praised as a measure that will expand educational freedom and opportunity for youth across the country.

In its current form, the legislation stipulates that scholarship funds could support tuition, fees, curriculum needs, technology and special education services, among other expenses, to be determined by the organizations granting scholarships. The federal bill defines eligible students as those in elementary or secondary institutions, including home school, who reside in households with incomes at or below 300% of the median income level in their area.

Bishop Daly underscored that parental rights are upheld by the courts, writing, “Since 1925, [with the Supreme Court decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925)] parental rights in education have been the law of the land in the United States. At a time when all ‘common schools’ had religious instruction, Catholic families desired their own schools.

“After being required to attend common schools with Protestant religious instruction as a part of the daily curriculum, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Catholic families have a right to send their children to Catholic schools and cannot be forced by the government to attend a government school. Additionally, the high court has upheld the use of public tax dollars for tuition vouchers given to parents, even if they use the scholarship to send their children to a religious school” (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639, 2002).

The Bishop expressed support for federal policy that will provide families across the county with access to the school of their choice. “The Educational Choice for Children Act does not create a new federal education program, nor does it compel states to create a new program. Rather, the act provides students opportunity for scholarships exclusively through individual or corporate philanthropy,” he pointed out, noting, “These protections ensure that private and religious institutions can participate, including almost six thousand U.S. Catholic schools.”

The USCCB encourages Catholics to contact legislators and urge them to support the legislation through co-sponsoring the bill. As of mid-August, the Senate version of the bill had nine co-sponsors, and the House version had 27.

To learn more, visit the USCCB’s Action Center at votervoice.net/USCCB/Campaigns/96808/Respond, where you can view additional details about the proposed legislation and use the online platform to send a message to your elected federal representatives.