Appearing with children in a recent campaign ad for the Democratic Presidential nomination, Vice President Al Gore said private schools “are fine, but not with money designated for public schools where 90 percent of our American children go.” (emphasis added)
Retired Roman Catholic Bishop Mark J. Hurley of Santa Rosa, California, objected to this negative portrayal of private schools and wrote to the Vice President to explain why. Hurley criticized Gore for using the words “our” and “American” when referring to students who attend public schools because, Hurley wrote, doing so clearly implies that “religious schools are not really ‘ours’ and are just a bit less than fully ‘American.'”
“You and your campaign managers may complain that I am reading too much into your words, but I am saying that those who have lived through . . . the years of the 20th century know better,” wrote Hurley in an open letter that was broadcast on radio stations in San Francisco and Sacramento, and published in the Diocese of Peoria’s Catholic Post.
The bishop said he was not accusing Gore of anti-Catholicism, though he seems “to be skirting on the cusp.” Catholics are not “the far right,” nor is it “a threat to the public schools, nor un-American” to call for justice in education for all parents. Hurley added that even the United Nations in its covenant on human rights respects parents’ freedom “to choose their children’s schools.”
“We Americans need all our schools,” the bishop wrote, noting that public schools enroll most Catholic youngsters and agreeing with Gore on the importance of improving education.
Gore’s allegation that vouchers “drain money away from public schools” is “simply false,” Hurley also wrote. “There are state plans in operation, the latest in Massachusetts, that grant funds to private and religious elementary schools without touching public funds or treasuries.”
Giving the Vice President a lesson in simple arithmetic, the bishop provided the example of a public school student whose education costs taxpayers $7,500 annually in operating expenses. If that student attends a nongovernment school on a $2,500 scholarship, the student “clearly leaves the taxpayer at an advantage,” wrote Hurley, since “the scholarship programs leave more money in the tax resources of the state.”
The money, Hurley argued, is saved “in the state treasury, of course, which the legislators could send to the public schools, if they so wish.”