Trump also declared himself the “best [president] in the “history of the Catholic Church,” according to Crux, which quoted from what it said was an audio recording it had obtained of the call. And he promised to keep supporting issues that are important to the Catholic Church, such as opposition to abortion.
Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have been supporters of expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, especially programs that use public funding for private and religious school education. The first school that Trump visited as president was a Catholic school in Florida in 2017, and he has repeatedly praised state programs that use public funding for religious school expenses.
The Crux report said that Trump was joined by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Participants included Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop, as well as superintendents of Catholic schools from various cities, including Los Angeles.
Trump called Dolan, who was the first participant to speak, a great friend of mine” and Dolan said the feelings Trump expressed about him were mutual. Dolan, O’Malley and Catholic educators talked to Trump about Catholic education.” Trump tweeted about it later, thanking Dolan for “a great call.”
Both Paul Escala and Elias J. Moo, superintendents of Catholics schools for in Los Angeles and Denver, used their time to urge for continued school choice.
“Parental choice cannot be a casualty of this crisis,” said Escala, telling the president that “we stand with you,” emphasizing that Catholic schools in California have saved the government over $2 billion.
“The other side is not in favor of it,” the president warned. “What a similarity we have and how the other side is the exact opposite of what you’re wanting so I guess it’s an important thing to remember.”
The president zeroed in on the savings amount and asked that a national figure of what Catholic schools save the federal government in education be determined so that he could convince Congress for greater funding.
This post is a response to that phone call. It was written by a Catholic laywoman and a Baptist minister who oppose using federal funding for religious education and are supporters of public education.
The authors are Meli Barber, vice president of DignityUSA, a Boston-based organization that focuses on LGBTQI+ rights and the Catholic Church; and Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas.
By Meli Barber and Charles Foster Johnson
President Trump, along with members of his administration, had a widely publicized phone call with Catholic bishops and leaders from across the United States on Sunday, April 26. On this call, the president spoke about his administration’s “support for Catholic schools.”
Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have often expressed support for programs that use public money for private and religious school education. In 2019 and again in 2020, the Trump administration included in its proposed budgets the creation of a $5 billion federal tax credit plan that would fund scholarships to private and religious schools. (Congress rejected the proposal.)
Although the bishops’ push for school vouchers has been praised by some in the Catholic media, many Christians have a different view. As a Catholic laywoman from Indiana and a Baptist minister from Texas, we are disheartened and discouraged by this administration’s shallow attempts to pander to Christian leaders by proposing these programs, which we believe are unconstitutional.
By redistributing taxpayer funds to private religious schools, voucher programs threaten marginalized students, religious freedom, and public education. We are also deeply concerned about religious leaders from many traditions, including our own, who would accept or promote voucher funding for private religious schools.
As leaders in national Christian organizations, DignityUSA and Pastors for Children, we advocate for the universal education of all children provided and protected by the public. Voucher funding for Catholic schools violates this public trust.
Taxpayer funding of religious organizations could also subject religious organizations to increased government oversight, and it could allow governments to “intervene and regulate admissions standards at private religious schools.” Church-state separation protects us all, and Catholic leaders expressing support for the administration to provides a taxpayer-funded handout threatens this constitutional guarantee.
Furthermore, vouchers may not even deliver for the religious organizations they purport to assist.
A recent study from the University of Notre Dame analyzed parishes with affiliated schools who accepted voucher funding. While vouchers kept Catholic schools afloat, voucher-accepting parishes saw “a decline in noneducational church revenue of $60 million over time.” This study concluded that vouchers “both help and hurt Catholic schools … driving away loyal parishioners and diminishing other religious activity.”
Voucher programs ultimately “rob Peter to pay Paul,” draining necessary funds from our nation’s already underfunded public schools. Traditional public schools serve God’s common good by educating at least 85 percent of our nation’s diverse children. They are the proving ground for religious liberty, where students of all faiths and none encounter one another in charity and life-giving friendships.
They are where our nation’s constitutional values of religious liberty and respect across lines of difference are lived every day. They protect marginalized students, especially poor students, disabled students, students of color, and LGBTQI+ students, who face high rates of bullying and harassment. They guarantee education for undocumented students, whose rights the Catholic bishops have repeatedly spoken out for. We should not put these pillars of our community at risk with reckless voucher spending.
In Indiana, harmful voucher programs have already wreaked havoc on the local public-school system. In Texas, faith leaders have organized to keep these threats to faith and freedom at bay.
A national voucher program, like the one proposed by Trump and DeVos, would be disastrous for Catholics, Baptists, and all people of faith and goodwill. It would harm public schools, put already marginalized students at risk, and restrict religious freedom. Catholic leaders, Baptist leaders, all Christians, and all people should oppose these voucher schemes.