The importance of choice in education reform Print
Eye on the Capitol
Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Eye on the Capitol, by Kim WadasWisconsin's public policy makers have increasingly focused on education reform. They do so for good reason.

Significant improvement in our education system could help alleviate many of the problems currently plaguing our state, such as skilled labor shortages and the high cost of incarceration. With "Catholic Schools Week" upon us, it's fitting to reflect upon the Church's approach to education reform and the unique role Catholic schools play in our community.

In the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, education is identified as that which "is necessary for living a genuinely human life" (Gaudium et Spes, #26). Improving our intellect is inherent to human dignity and begins from the moment of conception. Each of us has a duty, not only to improve our own knowledge, but also to advance the education of all. It is for this reason, among others, that the Church has for hundreds of years operated institutions of learning.

Role of parents in education

An education system should recognize the important role of parents as the primary educators of their children. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "As those first responsible for the education of their children, parents have the right to choose a school for them which corresponds to their own convictions. This right is fundamental. As far as possible, parents have the duty of choosing schools that will best help them in their task as Christian educators. Public authorities have the duty of guaranteeing this parental right and of ensuring the concrete conditions for its exercise" (#2229).

Simply said, an education system should promote the right of parents to attain an education for their children that espouses their values and ethics. For some parents, this is best achieved within a religious school.

Catholic teaching also affirms that all persons, even those on the margins of society, should be allowed the opportunity to exercise their basic rights in the same manner as others. In designing education policy that provides for choice in education, there should be a "preferential option for the poor" that ensures the parent's right is "concrete" and not imaginary.

Providing educational choice

The 2012 theme for Catholic Schools Week is "Catholic Schools: Faith. Academics. Service." This approach to education may not be for everyone. However, families of modest means should not be denied access to it simply because of their economic status. Support of educational options, through vouchers, scholarship programs, and other reforms, ensures that the potential of children of parents of limited means is not diminished by limited opportunity.

A system that provides educational choice, including instruction at religious schools, not only supports the rights of families and students, but benefits our community, too. Institutions which operate on principles of faith help form citizens who are committed to serving those around them. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his April 2009 address to Catholic educators in the United States, "No child should be denied his or her right to an education in faith, which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation."

Choices in education, such as the parental choice voucher program and other innovative choice programs, make this opportunity a reality for all communities. We should celebrate them as we observe Catholic Schools Week.

Kim Wadas is the associate director for education and health care for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference.