- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

NEW YORK The superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of New York says she is watching with great interest as President Bush tentatively pushes the concept of school vouchers, which allow low-income parents to send their children to private school at public expense.
"All this hoopla and paranoia out there about aid to religious schools. This is not about aid to schools but about aid to tax-paying parents who have every right to choose an educational setting for their children," said Catherine T. Hickey, the steward for 293 schools and 115,000 students in the Archdiocese of New York, which comprises the eleventh largest school system in the country. It extends from the boroughs of Manhattan, Bronx and Staten Island up through seven upstate counties.
"There's something wrong with a monopoly funded by the government that has the right to say there is only one educational system in the United States that can get support from the government," said Mrs. Hickey, 64, a mother of six and grandmother of 14, who began her career as a public school teacher in Spanish Harlem.
Ninety percent of the 6,000 graduating seniors in the archdiocese's high schools go on to college, compared with 30 percent in the public system. Public schools spend $5,000 per student annually; Catholic schools spend $2,400 a year.
A "core set of values" characterizes Catholic schools, says Joseph P. Viteritti, a research professor at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Science who is studying the differences between Catholic and public schools.
"This is especially true in the high schools where every kid takes an academic curriculum. There are no option courses, no second tier in Catholic schools," he said. "At the same time, there is a certain egalitarian ethos that says every kid is important and that every one of them can do well."
For the past four years in New York City, private money has underwitten a limited school choice voucher system in which low-income students were selected by lottery. One recent study compared the lottery winners from poor families (70 percent of whom went on to Catholic schools) with the losers who stayed in public schools. It found black students who changed schools scored higher on tests. Others, including Latinos, performed at the same level.
In the last two years, the Democrat-controlled City Council has blocked Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's efforts to set up a pilot voucher program with public funds. In answer to the demands of parents disenchanted with public schools, the city has allocated $12 million for such a program.
"The parents are far ahead of elected officials when it comes to school choice," said Deputy Mayor Anthony Coles, who is spearheading the effort. "The mayor believes we will have school vouchers. It's just a question of when." The mayor's children, like those of many city officials, attend private schools.


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