Catholic schools serve society Print
Our Catholic Schools
Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

This year we again celebrate our Catholic schools as "Communities of faith, knowledge, and service."

It is always edifying to look at our Catholic schools with satisfaction and pride as we recognize the wonderful communities of faith, knowledge, and service created by each school.

During Catholic Schools Week, we acknowledge these communities, extoll their virtues, and invite others to join us as members of these communities that educate children in faith and knowledge that they might serve others and by so doing, serve God.

Serving others in love

As we contemplate this aspect of service, we recall student service projects such as visiting the elderly confined to nursing homes, raking leaves in neighborhood yards, serving food at a homeless shelter, spearheading food and clothing drives, or landscaping the parish grounds.

Through these activities and the daily examples of caring and dedicated teachers, our students learn to value the discipline, sacrifice, and rewards that are part and parcel of our Christian duty to serve others in love.

Service becomes not just something that you do at school, but a way of life that carries through to adulthood. This sense of service has a significant impact on our society.

As studies over the last 20 years indicate, graduates of Catholic schools are much more likely to volunteer, vote, give to charity, attend church, and become involved in the civic life of their local communities than are graduates of other schools.

American ideals

Through forming children in faith, knowledge, and service, Catholic schools serve society and the common good.

Though producing upstanding citizens is a goal of all schools, Catholic schools go beyond this, contributing not only to the formation of our students, but upholding the very ideals of our American democracy and our rights under the Constitution of the United States.

Catholic and other religious schools are a vivid example of both our right to an education and freedom of religion. They also remind us that parents are the first and most important educators of their children, and as such, have a fundamental right to choose the form of education that best suits their children.

By providing this diversity and choice, Catholic schools validate parental rights and support parents’ right to choose.

Impact on economy

The societal benefits of Catholic schools stretch beyond the formation of individual students and the reinforcement of American and human freedoms to impact the economic area as well.

On average, as reported by the Department of Public Instruction, a year of public school in 2012 to 2013 cost over $11,700 per student. This means that Catholic schools in the Diocese of Madison saved the state, and taxpayers, nearly $84 million in one year alone.

Accounting for all students in Catholic schools across the state, the savings in the same year amounted to nearly $694 million. When you add in all other religious schools (Lutheran, Jewish, etc.) and all independent and private schools, the annual savings that non-public schools provide is nearly $1.2 billion!

Ongoing debate

Although the benefits are significant and undeniable, if you have listened to the news lately, you know that there is an ongoing debate about the proper role and relationship of government to public and non-public schools alike.

It is a fair question to ask. What is the proper relationship of government to Catholic and other non-public schools?

Although the response could easily occupy several pages, the root answer may be found in the primary duty of government to protect and defend the freedom and liberty of its citizens.

This was well stated in 1965 by the Second Vatican Council in its Declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis:

"The public authority, therefore, whose duty it is to protect and defend the liberty of the citizens, is bound according to the principle of distributive justice to ensure that public subsidies are so allocated that parents are truly free to select schools for their children in accordance with their conscience."

In other words, government must protect the parents’ freedom and ability to choose, and it must allocate public funds to ensure that parents are not held bound and powerless to choose the education they desire for their children simply because they can’t afford it.

Tuition tax deduction

This year I am pleased to announce that after many years of work, and for the first time in state history, a tuition tax deduction is available to families who choose to send their children to Catholic and other non-public schools.

The deduction is available for private school tuition that was paid during the 2014 calendar year to families and individuals who in 2014: a) paid tuition for a student to attend a private school and b) can claim that student as a dependent for federal income tax purposes.

The amount of tuition that may be claimed is up to $4,000 per child for elementary students and $10,000 per child for high school students.

The Form PS must be completed and submitted when state income taxes are filed. All Catholic schools in our diocese either have or will shortly send statements to families and individuals who paid tuition in 2014. The statements will include the information necessary to complete Form PS. Any specific questions should be directed to a tax professional.

This tax deduction is a true benefit to all our families who believe that Catholic schools provide the best education and formation for their children.

It is a sign that the state recognizes the many benefits provided by Catholic and other non-public schools and is a positive step toward protecting the parental right to choose an education that is best for their children.

May God bless all of you and your families, and may we all continue to grow in faith and knowledge that we may ever serve God, our communities, our state, and our nation.

Michael Lancaster is superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Madison.