President Trump Visits St. Andrews Catholic School and the School Choice Revolution Begins

By DEACON KEITH FOURNIER,  Published on March 3, 2017

The first school Donald Trump visited as president? A faith-based school using state aid and other sources to educate lower-income students looking for the best education they can find. This Friday, President Donald Trump visited St. Andrews Catholic School in Orlando, Florida. The school tells parents on its website: “Our commitment to you is simple: We will do whatever it takes to put your child on the path to college and heaven.”

It educates 300 students from kindergarten to fifth grade. Most get scholarships. They’re getting what everyone agrees is a great education. So why did people show up to protest? As the school affirms on the front page of the website: “We work with every family to make Catholic education possible for all, through Step Up For Students scholarships and other forms of assistance.” It is the Step Up for Students participation — Florida’s constitutionally sound and successful program — that has the education establishment upset.

Some opponents allege that supporters of school choice want to “privatize” education. Not at all. They want to “parentize” education.

The school choice revolution has begun. And not a moment too soon.

Free to Choose

Trump is a strong advocate of school choice, as is his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. In his first address to a joint session of Congress, he was refreshingly clear about his position:

I am calling upon Members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.

We need an educational revolution — not the rearranging of chairs on the Titanic which has masqueraded as educational reform in the past. And it has to begin, as the president recognizes, with empowering parents. Education outside of the home is an extension of the parent’s primary educational mission. I use the term “parental choice”  when advocating for this reform because it also recognizes that parents are the first teachers. The family is the first school and the first government.

Parents are the first and most important educators of their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in this area; they are educators because they are parents. They share their educational mission with other individuals or institutions, such as the Church and the State. But the mission of education must always be carried out in accordance with a proper application of the Principle of Subsidiarity. This implies the legitimacy and indeed the need of giving assistance to the parents, but finds its intrinsic and absolute limit in their prevailing right and actual capabilities. The principle of subsidiarity is thus at the service of parental love, meeting the good of the family unit.

— St. John Paul II, “Letter to Families”

Those who oppose school choice often resort to scare tactics. They argue that it will detrimentally affect the public-school system and falsely claim that supporters of school choice are against public schools. This is not true. Proponents simply call for all parents to have access to good public, private, parochial, virtual, classical, charter and home schools.

School choice will give parents a much greater say in their local schools. It will also open private, parochial, charter and home schooling to parents who love their children, but cannot make that choice because of their zip code or income.

This is the way it was originally. Public schools began with families pooling resources in small community schools they oversaw. Parental authority over their children’s education has been replaced with a top-down, one-size-fits-all federalized system that has substituted distant bureaucrats and “experts” for the parents who truly know and love their children.

Some opponents allege that supporters of school choice want to “privatize” education. Not at all. They want to “parentize” education.

Education Should Be Parentized

I am a Catholic Christian. My Church teaches that education should be parentized, as the president is proposing in his support for school choice. The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the right of parents to choose a school for their children: “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.” The Catechism tells parents they have the duty to choose the school and tells public authorities they must guarantee the parent’s right and ensure “the concrete conditions for its exercise.”

In his letter to the Church on the Christian family’s role in the modern world,” called Familiaris Consortio, the late St. John Paul II wrote: “The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.”

It is time to move beyond the ineffective top-down federal educational model. President Trump and Secretary DeVos are leading the way. The school choice revolution has begun.