For more than a year now, New Jersey Legislature has been trying to advance a bill that would provide parents an option to choose the school their children are going to by giving them a voucher to attend private schools. These parents want to see their children who are failing in their respective school districts get private education most especially, catholic education.
The bill, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, would allow businesses to divert tax dollars into a scholarship fund, money the state would use to award scholarships each of $6,000 a year to K-8 students and $9,000 to high school students.
But the question proponents of this bill ask is: will catholic education still be relevant? According to Mr. Angel Villalongo, currently a religion faculty at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, a parish youth coordinator and CCD trainor in the Diocese of Paterson, “the relevance of catholic education lies in knowing that teaching a child within the confines of a much stricter structure brings a deeper knowledge of the existence of God, and raises standards of moral responsibility towards himself and others”. He also added, “Classes in catholic schools, aside from having an emphasis on discipline, tend to be smaller than in public schools, allowing for more student-teacher interaction”. New Jersey catholic schools espoused value based curriculum where teaching is grounded on developing a child as a whole person.
Catholic schools are welcome in inner cities, where many minority families some non-Catholic, turn to them as an alternative to underperforming and sometimes violent urban public schools. Ironically, catholic school tuition can be burdensome for these families, which often must rely on tuition assistance from the church. Unfortunately, such aid is dwindling and hard to come by now a days. Mr. Villalongo, who hopes to become a deacon one day mentions, “in many ways, family-community partnerships are fostered to enable a faster generation of resources to enable as many students from low income families obtain catholic education.
With failing economy and affordability issues of catholic schools, student enrollment likewise have trimmed down resulting to many school closings in all the New Jersey Archdiocesan and diocesan schools. To date, 282 New Jersey’s Catholic schools have closed since 1971, according to the National Catholic Educational Association. Total enrollment has dropped from 275,012 students in 609 Catholic schools in 1971 to 106,797 in 327 schools as of 2009.
Chris Christie, who is a vocal advocate of the tuition tax credits concept, campaigned in part on a platform of education reform before being elected. But since he became a governor, no education reform has been implemented. Before January ends this year, he hopes the bill will move forward and land anytime in his desk for his signature. The approval will give catholic schools the much needed life support to continue providing the students a better chance of acquiring a diploma in a different setting where caring, compassion, and academic excellence is its mission.