LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?

All Our Children Deserve the Best, Healthiest Schools

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I needed that!

Last week, I visited the Father Vincent Capodanno Academy, an excellent Catholic elementary school on Staten Island.

While I often happily visit one of our grade or high schools, the Covid has lately limited my chances, so this one was especially uplifting.

The two hundred or so beaming students—including our wonderful special needs children—in company with their renowned principal, Diane Hesterhagen, their pastor, Father Michael Martine, their devoted faculty, staff, our superintendent, Mike Deegan, parents, grandparents, neighbors, and—because the school is dedicated to a Marine Chaplain, Father Vincent Capodanno, born and raised on Staten Island, who gave his life tending to a wounded soldier in Vietnam—many veterans, gathered outside on that crisp day to pray, reflect on Father Capodanno, and recommit themselves to love of God and country that is at the heart of faithful citizenship and Catholic education. That we did so on Inauguration Day was even more meaningful.

Then I had the honor of blessing the statue of Father Capodanno, with his family at my side, and to tour the first-class school.

All of us hope that this radiant school will one day be called St. Vincent Capodanno School!

I write about this refreshing visit as we celebrate Catholic Schools’ Week.

Support for our schools seems stronger than ever from our parents, people, and the wider community. They point to our superior test scores, the exceptionally high graduation and college admission rates, and the climate of duty, virtue, faith, safety, and discipline that is tangible in our schools.

This community affirmation went even higher because our schools are open! While scrupulously heeding all safety requirements, the kids are there, as are our brave teachers who are truly heroes and essential workers. The professionals tell us that our children and teachers are very safe in open schools.

Sadly, while the wider community is on the side of our schools, the government is not. Our city has resisted two court rulings that all children (in government and in our independent schools) must be tested. According to them, education tax money (which the parents of our Catholic school kids pay, in addition to the tuition!) is to be used only for the students in public schools.

Why are we surprised? Last spring, after the first stimulus bill, which, thanks to hard work by both parties, including our own Senator Schumer, all students in all schools would be eligible for the sustenance legislated, our city chancellor for education sued to halt any funds going to the 10% of students not in government schools. How’s that for bias? Since those funds were to be distributed by—guess who?—the public school bureaucracy, when the aid finally did get to us, we got pennies on the dollar.

When it comes to our tax money distributed to our school kids, it’s the government schools that are the elites, with the kids in our gritty Catholic, many below poverty level, and other independent schools ignored, or, at best, picking up the crumbs from the public schools.

As one Albany legislator remarked, “And here the Catholic schools do twice-as-good at half-the cost,” and we’re overlooked.

Don’t get me wrong; we support all our kids in all our schools. We want the public schools—where most of our Catholic kids go—strong and improved. We want all our schools supported. It’s about the children, not about the address of their school.

As our superintendent of schools, Michael Deegan, comments often, “We are not asking for favors. We are insisting on what is ours by law. We’re not asking for special treatment; we’re calling for fairness and equity.”

Our mayor has eloquently pointed out the injustice of “two cities.” Sadly, we now have “two sets of school kids,” one favored, one ignored.

It’s about our children, folks. They all deserve the best, healthiest schools. None should be left behind. The tax money all our people pay should follow the children to their school, with none excluded.

This is a fight worthy of a Father Vincent Capodanno!

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