In the op-ed column published in the previous post, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades called out Mark GiaQuinta directly for his remarks about the Indiana voucher program. In the interest of fair play, here is GiaQuinta's response to the bishop's remarks:
Bishop Rhoades, you concluded your response to my article on the voucher shell game by urging support for public schools. Unfortunately, the voucher program you defend has the opposite result, taking from those the church teaches us to provide for. I commend you for your candor in acknowledging the shell game I described. I respectfully call upon you to demonstrate your support for public education by announcing the end of the voucher system in the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. Your statement would demonstrate the church's mission of support for the urban poor and resonate throughout the Church and nation. And while your voucher refusal would send a powerful Christian message, it need not end your effort to seek state reimbursement for religious education.
Your statement in opposition to vouchers could explain that accepting these tax dollars deprives the community's neediest children of an adequate public education. You could explain that the church's sense of integrity does not allow it to hide behind a legal fiction. You could say that vouchers used for steeple repair do not escape the impermissible mingling of church and state simply because the money passes to the church through the parent's checking account and then through the church school.
Your refusal of vouchers would teach that religious education is a choice worth paying for, as Catholics, Lutherans, Muslims and others have done for generations. You could explain that paying taxes for public education, while choosing a religious education, is no different than paying for any other public service the citizen chooses to supplement or eschew altogether.
To prepare for your statement, you could learn more about the impact of vouchers and the constitutional tax caps on our urban school children. You would find that unless stopped, these policies will force FWCS to eliminate bus transportation for very young children whose walk to school includes busy streets and snow-covered sidewalks. You would learn that voucher funds have reduced public school funding by over $80 million Dollars, threatening the education of the profoundly disabled children whose needs the Catholic, Protestant and Muslim schools do not serve. Finally, you would see how FWCS serves the needs of over 3,000 English language learners, many of whom were resettled in Fort Wayne by Catholic Charities.
Finally, you could take your case to the Legislature and demand that any assistance provided to religious schools not come at the expense of the public schools. You should argue that the savings created by those who choose religious educational training be reimbursed with new tax dollars, not by siphoning funds from public schools, whose budgets have been reduced by millions over the past several years.
I will support your case for educational assistance, providing it is limited to education and not the Church infrastructure "wish list" mentioned in the address to local parishioners. Your stand against the current "we win – you lose" voucher strategy would demonstrate the spirit of Christ in the community, set an example for the nation and embody the inclusive spirit of our new Pope Francis. I pray it happens soon.
Mark GiaQuinta is president of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board.