Teachers accuse archdiocese of seeking to undermine public school system Officials deny voucher plan is threat

February 17, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

The Maryland State Teachers Association has accused the Archdiocese of Baltimore of taking part in an attack on public schools in an attempt "to win tax support for Catholic schools."

The charge comes after a representative of the Maryland Catholic Conference testified Friday in Annapolis in favor of Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to give 200 poor families in Baltimore money for private or parochial school tuition.

But archdiocesan officials deny any effort to smear public schools, saying they support the governor's proposal as a way to offer more educational choice to inner-city parents.

Supporters also say the governor's $582,000 plan would enable students to attend nonsectarian private schools and public schools outside the city, not just Roman Catholic schools.

The MSTA's charge is contained in a four-page letter to Archbishop William H. Keeler from Jane R. Stern, president of the 39,000-member MSTA.

She was scheduled to repeat those charges at a news conference today in Annapolis.

In her letter, Ms. Stern cited historic support by Catholic bishops for public education and urged the archbishop to "stop the attack on public schools launched by the voucher campaign to win tax support for Catholic schools."

She cited a one-page flier distributed by the Maryland Catholic Conference and a nine-page fact sheet prepared by TEACH Maryland Inc., a grass-roots coalition of groups supporting vouchers.

Ms. Stern accuses proponents of spreading "disinformation," saying the fact sheet in particular "repeats many of the libels we learned to expect from the Reagan/Bush administration and conservative ideologues, but certainly not from the Catholic bishops."

She said the fact sheet suggests that public school achievement is dropping and administrative costs are excessive, while Catholic schools boast high-achieving students and low overhead.

Rejecting those arguments, Ms. Stern urges Archbishop Keeler to "separate yourself from these misleading claims that serve to undermine public support for public schools."

The archdiocese, meanwhile, is unlikely to "repudiate" the voucher campaign, said Rob Rehg, archdiocesan spokesman.

"The unfortunate thing is that she believes there is some sort of war going on with the public school system," he said. "We have worked very closely with the public school system for years, and continue to, and support full funding for the school system."

Cay Drexler, associate director for education at the Maryland Catholic Conference, agreed.

"The issue here . . . is a concern about what kind of education are inner-city Baltimore poor children getting," she said. "What's the MSTA afraid of? This is a small pilot program. It's going to involve only 200 poor children."

And officials of Baltimore-based TEACH Maryland accuse the MSTA of distorting pro-voucher arguments for political reasons.

"They're more concerned with protecting their jobs -- they view this as an attack on their jobs -- than on doing something about the education of the children," said William M. Hall Jr., a Baltimore lawyer who serves as spokesman for the group.

He cited statistics from a Rand Corp. study showing that inner-city Catholic school students in 13 New York City and Washington, D.C., schools had better graduation rates and SAT scores than their public school peers.

Those and other other statistics help make the case for vouchers, in his view. But he rejects claims that such arguments are an attempt to undermine public schools.

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