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Testimony of Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, D. D.
Connecticut Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights
School Choice as a Civil Rights Issue
Hartford, Connecticut, September 28, 2006

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"I am Archbishop Henry Mansell, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I am here today representing not only the Hartford Archdiocese, but also the dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich. Together, these three dioceses cover the entire State of Connecticut. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak before this committee today on a topic of such great interest and importance, the education and future of Connecticut’s children.

I strongly support opening a much needed dialogue within our state on the issue of school choice, and how it may assist students who attend what are commonly referred to as under performing schools. Many of these schools are located within our poorer urban centers, and contain a high percentage of minority students. The most recent test scores of the Connecticut Mastery Test and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test appear to reveal that despite the most well intentioned efforts by public officials, over the past several decades, problems still exist. The divide in performance and graduation rates between suburban and urban schools within our state is a major cause for concern.
Unfortunately, it appears that the various efforts to address this problem through the years have failed to meet their goals. Surely, some successes can be cited, but children, especially the minority children of our urban centers, continue to lose their chance at success in life. It is vitally important for ALL the children of Connecticut to receive a quality education that will allow them to become critical thinkers, leaders, and productive moral members of society.

The State of Connecticut is blessed with excellent private and parochial schools. However, due to preconceived notions about public versus private education the doors to these fine educational institutions remain closed, with some exceptions, to the economically disadvantaged. Too many children, especially poor minority children, continue to be denied a chance to a quality education. It is time for the fear of school choice in our state to take second place, behind the desperate needs of our children. The State of Connecticut needs to begin to open the doors of these private and parochial schools to those who cannot afford them, but would benefit significantly from this service.

Parents, whether in a wealthy suburb or an urban center, want their children to succeed in life. We must remember that parents are held in our society to be the primary caregivers, educators and providers for their children. However, when it comes to their children’s education they are too often forced to watch them attend failing schools, primarily due to their economic status. Parents should be provided a school choice option so they can truly fulfill their assigned roles. These options can be made available
within Connecticut.

Across Connecticut, we currently have 136 Catholic schools affiliated with one of the three dioceses, which educate more than 37,000 children in grades pre-K through 12. Several of our Catholic schools operate in several of Connecticut’s urban areas. The Catholic dioceses of Connecticut offer financial assistance to a number of students as a means of allowing them to attend one of our schools. However, the available financial assistance is far exceeded by the need. The view of our parochial schools as catering to only the financially secure is not correct. Many parents make difficult financial decisions, and sacrifices, in choosing to send their children to our schools.

Despite the varying economic and social backgrounds of our students, when provided the opportunity, most of these students are academically successful. Although our schools are not allowed to offer the Mastery and CAPT tests, the standardized testing we do use, indicates above satisfactory results. The high school graduation rate of our schools is approximately 98%. This same 98% of students continue onto some form of higher education.

Catholic schools have long provided parents, urban and suburban, an alternative to public education at a very reasonable cost. These costs are usually well below the average cost per pupil in the public sector. The average cost to educate a child at a Catholic school is $ 4,755, while the cost to educate a public school student is in excess of $10,000 per pupil.
School choice options actually save the taxpayers of the state money, especially when the tuition or future capital expenditure expenses, such as those for bigger schools, charter schools and magnet schools, are considered. Currently, the parochial schools in Connecticut save the taxpayers of Connecticut over $400 million dollars a year, by not having to educate our students in public schools. These are savings in operational costs, which do not include the costs for capital repair and new construction if these schools were not present. Nor do they include the lien that the dropouts from other schools put on the public assistance rolls for years to come, which could reach into the billions of dollars.

In addition to the establishment of school choice vouchers, which is one of the primary aspects of most school choice programs, the bishops of Connecticut would like to see legislation enacted that would allow corporations to receive state tax credits for donating money to scholarship funds aimed at helping the economically disadvantaged. A state tax credit would encourage corporations to contribute to non-profit scholarships and would provide an opportunity for parents with limited financial resources to send their children to the school of their choice.

We would also like to see legislation adopted that would allow interdistrict transportation to non-public schools. This would open up even more choices to parents in the education of their children. It would also help address the issue of racial isolation within our urban areas. This additional busing may be limited to adjoining towns and in areas where transportation is already provided for the existing Open Choice program.

I would like to dispel some of the myths that are promoted by organizations that are opposed to school vouchers and school choice programs.

Students participating in school choice programs, by using a voucher, do better in school. A 1998 Harvard study found that students participating in the school voucher program in Milwaukee gained 11 points in math and six points in reading compared to the control group over a four year period. A 2002 Harvard study found that in Dayton, Ohio, after three years, African-American voucher students improved 6.5 percentile points more than the control group in combined reading and math scores.

School choice programs do make public schools better. A 2004 study by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute, found that low-performing schools districts where there were vouchers made greater test-score gains than similarly low-performing schools in districts without school choice. This study was conducted in Florida.

Some will also claim that school choice drains resources from public schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I already mentioned, the amount of funds spent on a school choice program is less then the funds spent on the average public school student. This means states and municipalities save money that can be reinvested in public schools. Cleveland’s public school spending rose from $6,616 per pupil in 1996-97, when their school choice program began, to $9,541 in 2002-03.

Finally, many will claim that non-public schools will only accept the so-called best students. Catholic schools in Connecticut are willing to accept students who need additional special assistance, if they are able to provide the services those students need. Many municipalities assist us with this endeavor. Furthermore, annual evaluations of the Milwaukee voucher program show that it is the struggling students, those with C and D averages, who choose new schools, not just the students who are receiving good grades.

In conclusion, the State needs to enact policies quickly that assist all children in obtaining quality education. To deny children a proper education, primarily children in certain economic or racial groups, while public officials try program after program, is blatantly unfair to these children and their parents. We can no longer afford to have students fall through the cracks. The existing process of increased public funding appears not to be meeting its objective. We need to give parents and students the opportunity to attend the schools of their choice.

Thank you and I would be happy to take any questions from the panel."

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