WASHINGTON (September 22, 2005)— The U.S. Bishops' Secretary for Education, Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, OP, said Senator Edward Kennedy's opposition to hurricane relief aid for private and religious schools "makes no sense."
"Denying educational aid to victims of Katrina because they attended Catholic schools is like denying home repair assistance to anyone who is not in public housing," said Sister McPhee.
"Congress needs to reach out to help all afflicted by disaster, whatever their race, economic level, or school ties," she said also.
Her full statement follows.
Denying educational aid to victims of Katrina because they attended Catholic schools is like denying home repair assistance to anyone who is not in public housing. It makes no sense.
Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), ironically, stands as the premiere politician opposed to helping these young people. It is at best incredible that the senator who has built his government career on helping the disadvantaged can turn away from them in what may be their hour of greatest need. Who can be poorer than a young person who has lost his home, his school, his pet, his neighborhood and even, in some cases, members of his very family? Must such a young person be denied educational aid because parents chose to enroll him or her in a Catholic or other nonpublic school?
Senator Kennedy said he is "extremely disappointed" that in President Bush's plan for hurricane relief aid would go to students no matter where they attend school. He's not half as disappointed as his fellow citizens who see his attitude as discriminating against what amounts to 45 percent of the students in New Orleans, many of them African-American and underprivileged by anyone's standards.
Catholic schools have been heroic in meeting the needs before them. In Houston, where the school year began in early August, Catholic schools have hired extra teachers and employed volunteers to work with incoming students from Louisiana, where the school year had not even begun when the hurricane struck. They've not only taken them in, they've gone the extra mile to bring them up to speed. One Jesuit high school, which usually enrolls 900 students, increased its enrollment by 46 percent. It established a second session to accommodate students, even keeping together classmates from the school they left so they would feel less alone.
In the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Catholic school population increased by more than 24 percent overnight when the school absorbed 4,000 student evacuees. In the Diocese of Shreveport, Louisiana, it increased by more than 26 percent. It is estimated that 12,000 new students poured into Catholic schools in a matter of days.
Just as insupportable as Senator Kennedy's position is that of Senator Michael Enzi (R-WY) who, similarly, seems to want to ignore the Catholic and other nonpublic schools which have opened their doors to evacuees. He has introduced a bill in Congress to help public schools defray the cost of accepting new students. He conveniently ignores the fact the Catholic schools in Texas and Louisiana also have opened wide their doors. In fact, while the influx of students into Texas has meant an increase of one percent for public schools, it has meant an increase of four percent for Catholic and other private schools. This is no surprise given that while 11 percent of students nationwide attend private or religious schools, in the Gulf coast area over 20 percent of students attend Catholic schools.
Young people in Catholic schools nationwide have undertaken fundraising for those hurt in this disaster. They hold car washes and cookie sales and sponsor drives for everything from backpacks to school supplies to clothing. They send the money to Catholic Charities USA, the American Red Cross, United Way and individual schools in order to aid people whether they go to public, private, or no educational institution at all. Schools which have enrolled evacuees have provided books, meals, clothes and, most of all, friendship, to other young people in need.
Children and teens have shown they instinctively know what to do. They've taken the lead. The least the powerful members of Congress can do is follow their good example. Congress needs to reach out to help all afflicted by disaster, whatever their race, economic level, or school ties.
Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, OP
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Secretary for Education
September 21, 2005