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Vouchers article published in the New Oxford Review


This is an article I published in the New Oxford Review, a controversial Catholic intellectual magazine. Their mailing address is 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706.

The New Oxford Review allows people to put up one article per month, so I did not really need their permission to put up my work, but after this article are three letters that comment on my article. I did get the New Oxford Reviews permission to include all three. Finally this web page includes my own letter to the editor responding to the critical letters.

Vouchers Should Pay for the Secular Portion of the Education

When we ask for vouchers for parochial schools, we are probably asking for a little too much. Perhaps we would have better luck if we asked for a voucher that covered the secular portion of their children's education. The collection plate and/or the rich parents could pay for the poor.

In 1997 public schools in this country cost an average of $5,911 per student, currently no doubt somewhat more than $6,000. Let's use the $6,000 figure per student for ease of calculation. Parochial schools commonly survive on half that, roughly $3,000 per student. Less than one-fifth of the time in a typical parochial school is spent on religious education. So if parents and/or the parish gave the parochial school $600 annually per student, then we could reasonably argue that the religious portion of the education was not coming from the public purse.

But the children of poor parents will have to be offered free education or else the system will be accused of elitism. For the sake of illustration let us assume that the poorest one-third must be given a free ride.

If the richest third of the parents were required to pay for the poorest third, then the top third would pay $1,200 per child - still a lot less than the $3,000 they would have to pay without a voucher system. The middle third would pay $600 per child - not too bad - and the bottom third would receive free education. Once again these burdens are reasonable.

The idea of the richest parents paying for the poorest is nicely "progressive," but another alternative would be to have the parish pay. Assuming again the cost of $600 per student, the parish would only pay for the poorest third, which is $200 per student in Catholic schools. Each student receiving 13 years of Catholic education (K-12) would cost the parish $200 times 13, or $2,600. If each parishioner gave an average of one extra dollar a week from age 18 through 78, that would just about cover it.

By making this type of very reasonable adjustment to our proposed voucher programs, we could make them much more acceptable to a lot of the electorate. Many fundamentalist taxpayers do not want to be required to pay for Catholic education when they think the Catholic Church is leading people to Hell with a "gospel of works." On our side, we might fell a little uneasy that our tax dollars are paying for lessons in fundamentalist schools which teach that the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon. And neither would we want our tax dollars to pay for private education in Wicca or witchcraft.

Furthermore, our arguments that the government should not pay for abortions because we believe - correctly - that abortion kills human life, are weakened if we demand that other people pay for our religious education even though they find our religion abhorrent.

We have good reason to demand control of our children's education. But our opponents do not want to pay for religious education. There is currently enough support for vouchers to bring us fairly close to our goal. The reasonable compromise proposed above might bring us the rest of the way.


I have added three letters that were critical of this guest editorial and my response. All these letters were published in the New Oxford Review letters to the editor. Note, as always titles are written by the publication, not the writer. Note also, I have permission from New Oxford Review to use these letters on the web site. If the authors have any objection, please contact me through the guest book and I will be glad to remove either their names or their names and their letters.

This first letter by, Rupert J. Ederer, is the only one I have responded to directly. The second letter is relevant to the debate. The third letter is really addressing another topic.

Vouchers: Demand the Max!

In his guest column, "a Possible Solution to the Vouchers Issue" (Jan.), Richard Bruce suggests that in promoting vouchers for parochial schools we may be "asking for a little to much." He proposes that we ask for just enough to cover the non-religious portion of the roughly $3,000 spent for parochial school education-i.e.,$2,400 per child annually. He bases that on his estimate that "less than one-fifth of the time in a typical parochial school is spent on religious education." Anyone who read my April 2000 NOR article, "The Scandal of Catholic Teachers' Pay," may appreciate that there are some problems with the well-intentioned Bruce proposal, especially since the $3,000 figure is already far short of the $6,000 spent on average per child in public school education.

First, we have no right to expect parochial teachers to continue working for what is in some places as little as half of what their public school peers earn. To settle for a voucher system that perpetuates that scandal would be settling for half a loaf.

Second, I have a serious reservation about the statement that "less than one-fifth of the time in a typical parochial school is spent on religious education." The mere fact that there is a crucifix at the front of each classroom indicates the overall religious mission of the schools. Secularists understand that perhaps better than we-which is why they vigorously oppose any tax money for "religious schools." The nuns who taught us managed quite well to "evangelize" us in periods devoted to history, reading, literature, Latin, or whatever. They know what their primary mission was, even while by no means falling short in the secular aspects of their instruction.

Finally, there has been plenty of lip-service to the Second Vatican Council by many people who obviously have never read the actual documents. Specifically the Declaration on Religious Liberty and the Declaration on Christian Education, which reaffirmed what Pius XI made clear seventy years ago in his encyclical On the Christian Education of Youth: Parents, as citizens and taxpayers have a right according to distributive justice to state-support for their free choice of religious schools.

Rather than continue being nice pussycats-which has gotten us exactly nowhere-we should imitate other minority groups that demand what they consider their due. The pathetic and deteriorating condition of so many public schools today is working in our favor, as is the example of other countries that are not obsessed by the phony "separation of church and state" mantra.

Rupert J. Ederer

The real issues in the school vouchers debate are the principle of educational freedom and the rights of parents in the education of their children. The "solution" proposed by Richard Bruce, according to which states would pay for secular instruction and the families would pay for religious instruction, is well-intentioned but unsatisfactory.

It needs to be stressed that the states have no money; it is the citizens' money, including the money of those who send their children to non-public schools. Further, it is irrelevant that one may dislike a family raising its children in some unconventional religious tradition like Wicca or witchcraft, to use Bruce's most extreme example. If a competent school where Wicca is taught meets prescribed state or national educational standards and if this instruction is not performed in violation of any of our laws, then a family has a right to choose this establishment for its educational needs.

As things now stand, public educational money can only be used for the promotion of the doctrines of the established "church" of secular humanism. this is in clear violation of our constitutional freedoms and exemplifies a situation where the parents rights in the education of their children have been pre-empted by the prior privileges of the teachers'unions and of the educational establishment.

Luis F. Caso

I would like to take exception to one of Bruce's statements, namely: "But the children of poor parents will have to be offered free education [in a voucher system] or else the system will be accused of elitism."

That Catholic schools have been accused of "elitism" is certainly true, but most of the criticism was directed to intellectual rather than financial "elitism." Many parents sent their children to Catholic schools were not wealthy, often had large families, and were by modern standards poor. Great personal sacrifice was involved in order to meet tuition bills, which took priority over other things. My own father worked six-and-a-half days a week, with no union, and to the day he died never had a vacation.

Catholic schools in the past had high academic standards based on difficult entrance examinations. They worked on the theory that brighter students could be educated for far less cost, if for no other reason than that the students' sagacity and ingenuity would enable them to cope better with lack of supplies, crowded classrooms, and whatever else you want to include. It was based somewhat on the system used by the Armed Forces in their Officers Candidate School.

I went to one of those blue-collar, intellectually "elite" schools. Not a day went by when we were not reminded that to whom much has been given much will be required. We were told over and over that what talents we possessed were to be used not for ourselves but to help and serve those less gifted. If we did not follow this, there was a nice hot place in Hell waiting for those of whom it could not be said, "Well done, good and faithful servant." It was from these classrooms that so many dedicated and heroic missionaries, priests, brothers, sisters, and laymen came.

It's too bad Catholic educators have accepted an undeserved guilt trip and believe they have ignored the moral mandate to serve. The leviathan government with its controlling regulations and false values has just about devoured and destroyed the public schools. Now it's trying to eat away at Catholic schools too. Unfortunately, after a lifetime spent in education, I see only a bleak future for our schools, both public and Catholic.

I wish I knew the right solution.

Clara Sarrocco


Here is my response, mostly to the first two letters. Once again, remember titles are written by the periodical, in this case the New Oxford Review not the writer. Give them the credit.

Let's Not Imitate The Loudmouths

In my guest column on vouchers (Jan.), I suggested that rich and middle class parents should pay for the religious portion of a Catholic education while vouches should pay for the secular portion. I also suggested that either the parish or the rich parents should pay for the religious portion of the education of poor children.

In the April issue there were letters objecting to my piece. Rupert Ederer wrote that "we should imitate other minority groups that demand what they consider their due." But those minority groups that are demanding their due have not done well economically or politically. We should neither imitate nor envy them.

Martin Luther King Jr. made a lot of progress in the late 1950s and early 60s by starting small-a seat at the lunch counter-and then building from there.

I have no great objection to more radical voucher proposals, but I am anxious to see even a small program implemented. When the public sees that the scare stories of the teachers' unions are false, we can build on the success. The teachers' unions seem to think vouchers will work, for they are desperate to stop even pilot programs.

Ederer says that Catholic education evangelizes even when the subject is secular and therefore the secularist will object to my proposal. Yes, but so what? We do not need the hard-core secularists to win elections.

Richard Bruce

My conversion story originally published in Catholic Digest.

The above articles were published, this one did not make it, though it received some nice compliments, Neuhaus said it was engaging. It is a collection of comments on the Neuhaus vs. New Oxford Review debate on the population of hell.

Here is a page on my activities as a Catholic evangelist

One reader asked, "Isn't the Oxford group a Protestant denomination?" Who knows, it maybe. There are many Protestant denominations. There was an Anglican Oxford Movement in the 19th century. The New Oxford Review was named after that movement. The New Oxford Review started as an Anglican group, but they converted and became Catholics. At any rate the New Oxford Review has been Catholic since 1983 according to the New Oxford Review web site.

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