Funding push for private schools gains Catholic campaign for public money wins Jewish, Christian allies

Lobbying effort planned

Bus transportation, textbooks, testing services targeted

September 14, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The campaign to get public dollars for private school students -- spearheaded by Catholic schools across Maryland -- is becoming an ecumenical effort, drawing support from some other Christian and Jewish schools.

Organizers are planning lobbying efforts aimed at convincing state officials that students in nonpublic schools are entitled to the same bus transportation, textbooks and testing services as those in public schools. And they are casting their net well beyond Catholic parishes and schools.

As the group moves toward an offensive during the 1997 General Assembly session, the campaign has attracted broad encouragement from sources including representatives of Beth Tfiloh Day School and the Association of Independent Maryland Schools.

"Whatever efforts we're working for would never be just Catholic," said Mary Ellen Russell, associate director for education at the Maryland Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the three dioceses with schools and parishes in Maryland.

Last summer, the conference formed the Maryland Federation of Catholic-School Families to give depth to its fight for the tax-supported services that are common in about two dozen states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

"I support in principle what this group is doing," said Ron Whipple, superintendent of the Annapolis Area Christian Schools. "We're interested, supportive . . . in a preliminary way."

Sarah Donnelly, executive director of the Association of Independent Maryland Schools, said the schools her association represents probably would be supportive but that she has not been contacted. "The climate has changed somewhat. There would be interest," she said.

The group represents nearly 100 schools across the state, some with religious affiliations, many without.

Jewish schools are divided on the propriety and the implications of accepting tax dollars.

"We are one with the opinion of the Baltimore Jewish Council," said Rabbi Paul Schneider, headmaster at Baltimore's Krieger-Schecter Day School. "Their position is clear: separation of church and state. And we would not be interested, therefore, in taking public funds."

But at Beth Tfiloh Day School, Ziporah Schorr, the education director, said, "Bus transportation, for sure, should be made open [to all children]. I don't see the political or religious implications of it.

"This definitely is not only a benefit, but also an enormous relief, for families who are already stretched to provide Jewish education."

At issue for all of the schools is their ability to remain free of government regulation.

"We don't want to be vulnerable with money," Donnelly said. "We've always said, 'We don't get any [public] money, so stay away.' "

About 10 percent of the schools represented by the Association of Christian Schools International would reject public funds because they fear intervention, said Alan W. Graustein, the association's regional director in Lancaster, Pa.

He added, however, that "this is not public support of nonpublic education. It's giving to the public services they need and pay for."

Russell said the public-funding campaign, now in its early stages, calls for letter-writing campaigns aimed at Gov. Parris N. Glendening and legislators, along with invitations to legislators to visit schools.

Based on surveys of parents with children in Catholic schools, the Maryland Catholic Conference has decided to ask for money for nonreligious textbooks, technology and transportation, according to a letter Russell sent to the schools.

Each of the nearly 200 Catholic schools in Maryland -- from the Baltimore and Washington archdioceses and the diocese of Wilmington, Del. -- has parent and faculty representatives in the federation, which will enlist help from others in schools and parishes.

Providing bus transportation to students in nonpublic schools is common in many New England and mid-Atlantic states, Graustein said.

In Maryland, 11 counties have laws allowing public transportation of students in nonpublic schools, but not all exercise that authority. In the Baltimore area, Howard and Carroll counties transport private school students on public school buses.

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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