Bush urges steps to save urban religious schools

Bush urges steps to save urban religious schools
By ADELLE M. BANKS Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Bush called for more proactive measures to help urban religious schools -- including expanding voucher programs -- and invoked the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI in a speech Thursday (April 24) at a summit on faith-based schools in inner cities.

"America's inner-city faith-based schools are closing at an alarming rate," Bush said in a speech to more than 200 community leaders, faith-based school officials and Catholic schoolchildren.

"Helping inner-city children receive the education they deserve is so important as we head into the 21st century."

The president said close to 1,200 faith-based schools closed in U.S. inner cities between 2000 and 2006, affecting about 400,000 students. Nearly half of the 1,162 closed schools were Catholic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

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While defending his work with public schools through his "No Child Left Behind" initiative, Bush said parents should have options when their public schools are not meeting proper standards.

The president called giving children a sound education "one of the greatest civil rights challenges" for the country.

"I am fully aware that in inner-city America some children are getting a good education, but a lot are consigned to inadequate schools," he said.

According to recent data from the National Catholic Educational Association, about 29 percent of students in Catholic schools come from racial or ethnic minorities, up from 11 percent in 1970. About 14 percent of students in Catholic schools are non-Catholics.

Bush suggested that there should be greater efforts to overturn so-called "Blaine Amendments," which prohibit public money for religious schools and currently exist in more than 30 state constitutions.

"These amendments have their roots in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry and today continue to harm low-income students of many faiths and many backgrounds," he said.

Bush also said he'd continue seeking congressional expansion of the D.C. Choice Incentive Act, a pilot voucher program that permits funding of students in religious and nonreligious private schools in Washington, D.C.

"Demand clearly outstrips supply, which says to me we ought to expand the program and not kill the program," he said.

The president also said his $300 million proposal for Pell Grants for Kids, which allow low-income parents to remove their children from underperforming public schools and place them in private schools, would also help "sustain the cash flow" of faith-based schools.

Bush recalled that Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to Washington on April 17, had blessed the cornerstone of a new Catholic school in Arlington, Va., during his Mass at Nationals Park.

"And my hope is ... that we're laying cornerstones for new schools here or revived schools," Bush said. "That we take the spirit of the Holy Father and extend it throughout the country, and work for excellence for every child."

By ADELLE M. BANKS Religion News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Bush called for more proactive measures to help urban religious schools -- including expanding voucher programs -- and invoked the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI in a speech Thursday (April 24) at a summit on faith-based schools in inner cities.

"America's inner-city faith-based schools are closing at an alarming rate," Bush said in a speech to more than 200 community leaders, faith-based school officials and Catholic schoolchildren.

"Helping inner-city children receive the education they deserve is so important as we head into the 21st century."

The president said close to 1,200 faith-based schools closed in U.S. inner cities between 2000 and 2006, affecting about 400,000 students. Nearly half of the 1,162 closed schools were Catholic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

While defending his work with public schools through his "No Child Left Behind" initiative, Bush said parents should have options when their public schools are not meeting proper standards.

The president called giving children a sound education "one of the greatest civil rights challenges" for the country.

"I am fully aware that in inner-city America some children are getting a good education, but a lot are consigned to inadequate schools," he said.

According to recent data from the National Catholic Educational Association, about 29 percent of students in Catholic schools come from racial or ethnic minorities, up from 11 percent in 1970. About 14 percent of students in Catholic schools are non-Catholics.

Bush suggested that there should be greater efforts to overturn so-called "Blaine Amendments," which prohibit public money for religious schools and currently exist in more than 30 state constitutions.

"These amendments have their roots in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry and today continue to harm low-income students of many faiths and many backgrounds," he said.

Bush also said he'd continue seeking congressional expansion of the D.C. Choice Incentive Act, a pilot voucher program that permits funding of students in religious and nonreligious private schools in Washington, D.C.

"Demand clearly outstrips supply, which says to me we ought to expand the program and not kill the program," he said.

The president also said his $300 million proposal for Pell Grants for Kids, which allow low-income parents to remove their children from underperforming public schools and place them in private schools, would also help "sustain the cash flow" of faith-based schools.

Bush recalled that Pope Benedict XVI, during his visit to Washington on April 17, had blessed the cornerstone of a new Catholic school in Arlington, Va., during his Mass at Nationals Park.

"And my hope is ... that we're laying cornerstones for new schools here or revived schools," Bush said. "That we take the spirit of the Holy Father and extend it throughout the country, and work for excellence for every child."

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