- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 14, 2007

President Bush yesterday said he will try to prevent an increasing number of inner-city Catholic parochial schools from closing by adding funding for them in the upcoming renewal of the No Child Left Behind law.

America’s Catholic schools “have given millions of Americans the knowledge and character they need to succeed in life,” Mr. Bush said during a short speech at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

“Today, these schools are also serving thousands of non-Catholic children in some of nation’s poorest neighborhoods,” the president said. “I am worried that too many of these schools are closing, and our nation needs to do something about it.”

The fourth annual breakfast — established in 2004 in response to Pope John Paul II’s appeal for a “new evangelization” — attracted political and religious leaders, including Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., and the Most. Rev. Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s envoy to the United States.

Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl lauded the history of faith’s influence on U.S. public policy and called on the nearly 1,500 attendees to continue the legacy.

“As believers, we look to our faith,” Archbishop Wuerl said at the Washington Hilton. “We should look to our most deeply held convictions when we address matters that affect our nation’s activities at home or abroad.”

Archbishop Wuerl pointed to issues that still demand attention, including abortion, immigration and education.

“Religious faith has played and continues to play a significant role in promoting social justice issues just as it has in defending all innocent human life,” he said.

Mr. Bush also made reference to abortion, stem-cell research and human cloning.

“Renewing the promise of America begins with upholding the dignity of human life,” Mr. Bush said.

“In our day, there is a temptation to manipulate life in ways that do not respect the humanity of the person. When that happens, the most vulnerable among us can be valued for their utility to others — instead of their own inherent worth.”

After the event, Mr. Bush met at the White House in the afternoon with parochial school leaders and parents from across the nation.

The closing of Catholic schools, especially in low-income neighborhoods, is “a national concern” for the National Catholic Education Association, said NCEA President Karen Ristau.

Mr. Bush wants to expand school choice, similar to what exists in Washington, to states across the country. His proposal for reauthorizing No Child Left Behind would include funds for scholarships that would allow students in low-performing schools to transfer to private schools.

The president’s reauthorization plan would also push for more Catholic schools to be allowed by states to provide after-school tutoring to public school students.

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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