If Public Schools Are Closed, Should Private Schools Have to Follow?

Teachers unions all across America are successfully shutting down public schools in the name of COVID-19. Now, under the guise of “equality,” they’re trying to shut down private schools, as well.  

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The Maryland county where my kids go to school already tried. The county’s chief health officer, offering no metric to justify the move, issued a blanket closure of all private schools on a Friday evening. Outraged parents mobilized over the weekend and, less than 48 hours after the initial decree, Gov. Larry Hogan overturned the county order. Days later, the health officer dug in his heels and issued a new order closing schools in total defiance of the governor while at the same time, greenlighting the opening of massage and tattoo parlors. After more outrage, he was eventually forced to rescind the order.   

But it was perhaps the most brazen attempt yet to hide this increasingly glaring reality: While public schools are closing for in-person learning, private schools are working hard – at great expense – to open safely in the fall for in-person learning. The upshot? The teachers unions and their apologists are now labeling private schools “engines of inequality.” That’s the false phrase of two authors in a recent New York Times article that framed school closures as a conflict between privileged parents and poor county families whose children will be victims of the failed experiment known colloquially as “distance learning.”  

The problem is that the data simply do not support such a simplistic framing of the issue. That’s especially the case when you account for the fact that Catholic schools fall into the private/independent school category. Teachers unions argue they cannot re-open safely because of budget constraints and class sizes. Yet Catholic schools spend nearly seven thousand dollars less per pupil than national per pupil average spending. Catholic school tuition on average costs less than half the national average for their non-sectarian private counterparts, and nearly all offer financial aid despite often operating at a loss. They do this, in part, because their very mission is to meet the needs of America’s most disadvantaged families. A full 40 percent of Catholic schools are located in America's inner cities. 

In the words of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:  

“Catholic schools are often the Church’s most effective contribution to those families who are poor and disadvantaged, especially in poor inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas. Catholic schools cultivate healthy interaction among the increasingly diverse populations of our society. In cities and rural areas, Catholic schools are often the only opportunity for economically disadvantaged young people to receive an education of quality that speaks to the development of the whole person.”  

And they still manage to produce enviable educational outcomes. They boast some of the nation’s best graduation rates. As one study concluded, “[S]tudents who attended Catholic high schools had the highest college GPAs, total college graduation rate, and four-year college graduation rate, and they were more likely than students who attended other high school types to have graduated with a STEM degree.” 

Catholic schools aren’t engines of inequality; they are accessible pathways out of poverty for some of America’s most disadvantaged students.  

Despite far fewer resources than public schools or their elite private counterparts, Catholic schools nationwide have spent the summer retooling their operational plans to get America’s most disadvantaged children safely back at their desks this fall where health and public policy experts all agree these kids belong. While the teachers unions have been lining up body bags outside of schools, Catholic school administrators have been working overtime – buying tents, reconfiguring classroom layouts, and installing air filtration and hand sanitizing stations throughout their schools.  

That Catholic schools have nimbly come forward with CDC-compliant reopening plans on shoestring budgets stands in stark contrast to the unions’ arguments that more money and outrageous demands are the solution to safely educating America’s children in a pandemic. They unmask in an unprecedented way the unions' fraudulent claims that they have America’s neediest kids at heart. And, now, in trying to close down America’s Catholic schools, the unions are exposing themselves as the true engines of educational inequality in America.  

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