New Jerseyans are being urged to contact their state senators and representatives and tell them to include nonpublic schools in the next CARES Act. CNS photo/Sam Lucero
New Jerseyans are being urged to contact their state senators and representatives and tell them to include nonpublic schools in the next CARES Act. CNS photo/Sam Lucero
With federal aid on the line for a second time, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the New Jersey Catholic Conference are urging Catholics to contact congressional leaders urging that nonpublic schools be included.

“The devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 virus have reached nearly every sector of American society,” states a letter on the NJCC website, which New Jersey residents can sign and send to legislators. “The Catholic schools in the United States have been severely impacted as well, and their centuries-long tradition of serving families from all walks of life is now [in jeopardy].”

Reminding congressional leaders that “private school students represent 10 percent of the K12 student population” of New Jersey, the letter requests direct assistance to families in the form of means-tested scholarships, pairing with dollar-for-dollar tax credits to scholarship granting organizations – echoing requests made in a letter by the USCCB in a coalition with more than 150 interfaith and civil society organizations.

The NJCC letter also suggests a tax policy that would allow for tax credit or deduction for a percentage of K-12 education tuition and expenses, as well as expanding eligible uses in current 529 savings plans to include all K-12 education expenses beyond school tuition, including home education expenses.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, first signed by President Donald Trump March 27, includes a provision for specific funding sources for local education agencies – the Elementary Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSERF). A second CARES Act will be discussed by Congress in the next few weeks, and both the NJCC and USCCB agree that including private schools in the relief is critical.

As the core purpose of ESSERF is to provide direct money to school districts impacted by the disruption and closure of schools from COVID-19, nonpublic schools fall within this category of need. But the first CARES Act funding, according to the National Catholic Education Association, sparked controversy among some public school organizations, who argued that it is a Title 1 Section 1117 program (geared toward schools with at least 40 percent of students coming from  low-income families), and that equitable services should be limited only to those private school students who participate in that program.

“Catholic education has long been an integral part of the American experience and a means to lift many from poverty,” said Bishop Michael C. Barber, S.J. of Oakland, and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Catholic Education. “That mission is imperiled because of the economic devastation facing many families across the country; as families lose income, they are unable to make the tuition payments that sustain our schools.”

Bishop Barber has joined the interfaith coalition calling on the U.S. Congress to provide immediate federal aid to benefit low-income students in non-public schools. In recent weeks, more than 100 Catholic schools nationwide have announced that they plan to close, with hundreds more facing an uncertain future because of the economic losses associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Compounding the financial strain is the absence of Sunday Mass collections for several months during pandemic lockdown – collections that help support parish schools, in order to keep tuition rates accessible for all families, allowing lower-to-middle income families the option of Catholic education for their children.

The decision to exclude non-public schools from this second round of CARES funding would impact more than 1.7 million students enrolled in more than 6,000 schools nationwide. These are students who would be added to public school rolls at taxpayer expense if Catholic schools were not able to survive.  The USCCB’s full letter to Congress is available at: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catholic-education/public-policy/upload/Federal-COVID-Response-Coalition-Letter-6-25.pdf

 

Take Action:

Contact New Jersey senators and representatives immediately and tell them to include nonpublic schools in the next CARES Act: njcatholic.org/faith-in-action