'Maryland behind the times' in giving support to private schools, Keeler says Other states provide aid, cardinal notes

November 05, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

In a passionate address to Catholic school teachers and administrators yesterday, Cardinal William H. Keeler reaffirmed his commitment to getting public money for private school students and their families.

"Maryland is behind the times and I say it's a scandal" that the state does not provide bus transportation and other services to children in nonpublic schools, he said.

"The leadership should help this state catch up," the cardinal said after the opening prayer service of the annual Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic Schools Convention. More than 2,000 Roman Catholic school employees attended the daylong meeting at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Enrollment up

Continuing the trend of the past five years, archdiocesan schools increased their enrollments this year -- to 35,226 students, up 1.8 percent or about 620 students over last year. The archdiocese has about 101 elementary, middle and high schools.

Maryland's Catholic schools are spearheading a campaign to get the kind of aid the cardinal talked about. Through a letter-writing campaign, Catholic families from three dioceses with schools in the state are urging Gov. Parris N. Glendening to put money into next year's budget for transportation, textbooks and technology for students in nonpublic schools.

The governor had received about 3,000 such letters by last week, but had not responded to them. The cardinal would not indicate what sort of response he expected from the governor and legislators.

Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey -- among 28 states across the nation -- have long provided public money for transportation, textbooks, school nurses and other services "that do not raise any question about the separation of church and state," the cardinal noted.

Ronald J. Valenti, superintendent of the archdiocese's schools, thanked the cardinal for "the passion he offered us. We're not looking for anything beyond what has been approved by the Supreme Court. It's not to undermine public education."

He said the enrollment growth -- though less than in the previous four years -- is a "pleasant surprise," given that many Catholic schools are at capacity.

Annual report

Valenti also issued the annual Catholic schools' "report card," showing high attendance and graduation rates, few withdrawals for academic, disciplinary or financial reasons, and an average class size of 22 students.

For the first time this year, the archdiocese reported the amount of scholarship money garnered by its high school graduates -- more than $38 million. About 94 percent of all Catholic high school graduates attend college, the report showed.

Despite the enrollment increases and good report card, "challenges" remain, Valenti said. More than 3,000 students are on waiting lists across the diocese, up from about 2,500 last year. Task forces in Anne Arundel, Harford and Frederick counties are considering adding new schools, as is one in Howard and Carroll counties.

Building schools is inevitable, but when, where and who will pay for them have not been determined, Valenti said.

City problems

Another challenge is in the city, the only area of the archdiocese where enrollment dropped. Overall, city enrollment declined by less than 1 percent from last year, but the elementary and middle school enrollment dropped 2.8 percent.

The archdiocese has asked companies and foundations to raise money for tuition aid for students in the city's Catholic schools. The money is intended to boost enrollments and stabilize schools in areas beset by demographic changes.

It also was announced yesterday that Baltimore will be the host for the annual conference of the National Catholic Education Association in April 2000 -- a gathering expected to attract more than 10,000 Catholic educators.

Pub Date: 11/05/96

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