Archbishop William H. Keeler, in one of his first public statements since being named a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, yesterday made a strong pitch for additional public aid to Maryland parochial schools.
At a news conference held to announce a fourth consecutive year of increased enrollment in Baltimore archdiocesan schools, Archbishop Keeler endorsed vouchers and tax credits to aid parents of parochial school students, but he said a "more practical" approach would be to increase public aid in ways that have already "met standards as established by the Supreme Court."
Maryland is behind neighboring states in providing public bus service to private-school students, lending public school textbooks to non- public schools and providing health and counseling services to private schools at public expense, the archbishop said.
"We have a funny situation where the contributions of the religious schools are not being properly recognized," Archbishop Keeler said. The religious schools are "saving the public schools so much money," he said, and yet private-school parents are being "doubly charged" -- paying taxes for the operation of both public schools and private-school tuition.
Maryland and most other states provide some bus service to Catholic students, and Maryland pays $20 million a year to place special education students in non-public schools if public schools don't offer the program they need. But the Maryland transportation plan is an option of local jurisdictions. Nine of the 24 school districts are participating, according to the state Education Department, and school bus drivers cannot leave their routes to pick up or discharge private-school students.
Pennsylvania has budgeted $17.8 million this year for the "loan" of textbooks and other instructional materials to non-public schools, and the commonwealth also is spending $58.2 million to provide counseling and remedial teaching, to private schools.
Catholics in Maryland have been lobbying for more state aid for decades. A voucher plan enacted by the General Assembly in 1971 was soundly defeated in a state referendum in 1972.
Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the Republican candidate for governor, has proposed a voucher or tax credit plan to aid non-public school parents, but Archbishop Keeler said he was "staying out of politics."
At the press conference held at the annual convention of Catholic educators at the Convention Center, Archbishop Keeler and Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of Catholic schools in the archdiocese, said enrollment in 101 archdiocesan schools has reached 33,800 from a low of 30,700 in 1990-1991.