Should County Transport Parochial Students?

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 05, 1995

Regarding the editorial in The Sun on Feb. 16, "No Free Ride for Parochial Students":

I find it very difficult to understand how The Sun can take such a position on the Howard County law which allows for transportation of parochial school students, when the student lives on an existing bus route and bus seats are available. What a distortion of justice!

I first of all require clarification as to how the $206,000 cost for this service was established. Is this the true incremental cost of transporting these students? Would the true costs be reduced by $206,000 if the service was not provided to the 650 students?

Your position that "the mere payment of taxes does not turn all public service into an entitlement," may have some substance in certain instances. I shouldn't be allowed to claim unemployment compensation if I am not unemployed, and I shouldn't be permitted to call the fire department to my home if I don't have a legitimate emergency.

I remind you that the "mere payment of taxes" without representation was sufficient reason for our forefathers to go to war against their fatherland. Where do you stop with your entitlement position? Your logic suggests that if a parochial school caught fire that the fire department should not respond, or if a student became seriously ill while attending a parochial school that public emergency services should not be made available to him.

I am a 71-year-old Roman Catholic who attended parochial schools, and am a father who paid to have his four sons educated in parochial schools. At the same time, I have carried the double burden of supporting the public education system, which I do proudly and willingly. I am, however, getting fed up with what has become in my judgment a very perverse interpretation of the doctrine of the separation of church and

state. . . .

Paul J. Guercio

Ellicott City

Lan Nguyen's Feb. 13 article on how Howard County taxpayers are providing free transportation to certain religious schools here included many interesting statements on all sides of the issues. It's past time that such attention was brought to what I regard as a highly improper use of public funds by our county and Board of Education.

Some of us believe that public funding of religious school transportation violates, at the very least, the spirit of the First Amendment's prohibition against aid to religion. Even if there is "no religious education being provided on the bus," as parochial school parent James Coolahan Jr. was quoted as saying, it obviously is provided at the end of the bus trip.

Mr. Coolahan and Brad Mauntz, described as the head of the transportation committee at St. Louis School (one of the five beneficiaries), argue that they have rights as taxpayers to public transportation. Indeed, we are all taxpayers.

But our public schools are open, without discrimination, to all children and, because they serve the public, are financed by all -- even those without children. Religious schools are not necessarily open to all and serve their own interests. Can it be seriously argued that such schools deserve taxpayer funding? . . .

Sister Rita Dorn, principal of another of the benefiting parochial schools (St. Augustine's), doesn't seem to understand that when parents voluntarily forgo the public schools and choose a religious school option for the education of their children, it doesn't mean that such "freedom of choice" necessarily entitles them to free public transportation for exercising that option. . . .

It should be emphasized that the 1943 law under which the county funds its current parochial busing program has been described in an official county Office of Law opinion as constitutionally defective and likely to fail if challenged in court.

If Howard County Board of Education Chairwoman Susan Cook believes such a challenge by the board would be the equivalent of "breaking" the law, I could not disagree more. . . .

Kenneth A. Stevens

Savage

Referring to your editorial of Feb. 16, "No Free Ride for Parochial Students," I believe it to be of little value because it only addresses the issue from a very narrow angle. Since you approach it from the standpoint of dollars, let's explore the issue a bit more fully.

It seems to me that it would be helpful to know what percentage of the total Howard County student population using school buses the 650 Catholic students represent and, at that rate, at what cost to the county. And, as opposed to that, what would the cost be to have those 650 students attending public schools in Howard County, of course.

To obtain such information should only be child's play, and to make it public merely an example of quality, fair reporting.

Charles H. Devaud

Baltimore

It's hard to imagine that your editorial of Feb. 16 wasn't written by someone who had an unhappy experience as a child in a parochial school. It is the only explanation for the fuzzy thinking and pejorative use of language.

While not a Republican, it is safe to say that the GOP's platform plank on school vouchers hardly intends to take "funds from public schools to provide vouchers to families of private school students." I understand the goal of a voucher system to be to give all parents what now only belongs to economically advantaged families, and that is the freedom to choose the best educational opportunity available to them. . . .

I don't mind the writer's personal grudge against parochial schools. I do mind the deliberate abuse of language and the abandonment of rational thought in expressing that grudge.

I would also suggest that the writer think twice about attacking parochial and other private schools.

The day may not be far off when America's only source of leaders (and editorial writers) may well be their graduates. Let us hope that they will be more objective in their use of language and be equipped with better reasoning capacities.

R. L. Mordhorst

Baltimore

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