- The Washington Times - Friday, July 31, 2020

Catholic bishops on Friday pressed the Congressional Black Caucus to support coronavirus relief spending on private schools, especially those serving urban children.

The bishops pleaded for help after House Democrats shunned private schools, including Catholic schools that serve more than 380,000 minority students nationwide, in a $3 trillion rescue bill the House passed in May.

“As the impact of the coronavirus has disproportionately affected the Black community, the same is true for our Catholic schools that serve predominately Black communities, and we are imploring your help for these families who have sought a Catholic education for their children,” three leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote to CBC Chair Karen Bass, California Democrat.

The bishops — who are leaders of the conferences’ committees on schools, racism and African American affairs — said inaction from Congress jeopardizes educational opportunities for Black children in America.

“Catholic schools are facing a crisis at this very moment,” the bishops said. “Over 130 schools have already announced permanent closure, including schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, New Jersey, and New York. These closures are disproportionately harmful to low-income and black children that are educated in urban schools. Strong action from Congress could provide these families and schools the confidence they need to stay in the Catholic school of their choice.”

Total enrollment in Catholic schools nationally for the current academic year is more than 1,7 million across roughly 6,183 schools. Racial minorities comprise 21.8% of enrollment and 19.1% of students are non-Catholic, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Ms. Bass and the CBC did not immediately respond to questions about the letter. Ms. Bass is on the shortlist to be the running mate of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

The bishops’ appeal puts Ms. Bass and the CBC in the middle of the struggle between minority communities clamoring for school choice and teachers unions demanding lawmakers’ fidelity to public schools.

Capitol Hill Democrats almost always side with the teachers’ unions.

In the $3 trillion bill, which is House Democrats opening bid in the current negotiations for more coronavirus spending, they blocked states from widespread sharing of the aid.

The bill directed that the aid cannot go to private schools unless for special education needs of students designated by an individualized education program (IEP) drafted by public schools, according to an analysis by FutureEd, an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

Similar restrictions were included in Senate Democrats’ $430 billion coronavirus relief bill last month that targeted child care and education.

The Senate Republican’s $1 trillion coronavirus relief bill included $70 billion for schools. Private schools could receive a share of money equal to their share of low-income students. But all of the aid would be contingent on schools reopening for in-person classes, as advocated by President Trump.

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