‘Faith-based schools are an asset for all of us’ – Michael Guerra, podcastED

Faith-based schools will be more effective in expanding school choice – and in getting Americans to see their value – if they work together across traditional lines, suggests the chairman of a new national commission that aims to foster that kind of coalition.

“We want to encourage the leaders of faith-based schools to become more engaged, to make sure that together, across lines, across sectarian and religious lines, they join forces to advocate for the families and for their institutions,” said Michael Guerra, who chairs the Commission on Faith-based Schools, in the podcast below.

The 14-member commission, which met for the first time last month, was launched by the American Center for School Choice. Guerra is a founding director of the center (which co-hosts redefinED) and past president of the National Catholic Educational Association.

It’s no coincidence the commission is emerging now, he said. Publicly funded school choice is rising in acceptance and yet, at the same time, there is enormous flux among faith-based schools. Catholic schools, for example, have been dwindling in urban areas where they long anchored neighborhoods and served low-income families. “These are assets too precious to be lost,” Guerra said.

“We’re on an educational mission and that’s to make the case that faith-based schools are an asset for all of us,” he said. “Faith-based schools go back to the very beginning of the country. There were faith-based schools before there were public schools. And they’ve done a terrific job of forming citizens – good citizens – for this country.”

At the first meeting, commission members agreed their driving theme should be the moral imperative of parental choice, rather than academic benefits or cost savings. Guerra said the latter may be “collateral benefits,” but they’re not the heart of the matter.

“What starts the conversation is parents,” he said. “Going back to 1925, when the Supreme Court decided that states couldn’t limit parents to public schools. They said famously, in the Pierce case, the child is not the creature of the state. And that’s the starting point. The child is not the creature of the state. It’s the parents who have the first responsibility to educate.”

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at rmatus@stepupforstudents.org or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at facebook.com/redefinedonline.