DALLAS — It is political outreach that continues to reverberate throughout the Catholic Church in Texas.
Bishops from across the state recently called on parishioners to support education savings accounts, or ESAs, some of the most controversial bills under consideration during the legislative session in Austin.
For the church, though, the mission is clear.
“We want for this to begin to really make inroads with our most vulnerable populations, which are low resource families and students that have learning differences and learning disabilities,” Dr. Veronica Alonzo told us on Y’all-itics.
Dr. Veronica Alonzo is the Associate Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese of Dallas.
She tells us they have around 2,500 open seats, with nearly 15,000 students currently enrolled, so if lawmakers pass a school choice bill, the church will benefit across Texas.
But Dr. Alonzo argues so would families.
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One bill would provide $8,000 in taxpayer money, per student, for families to move their children from public schools to private schools, including religious schools.
While that amount would not cover full tuition for catholic middle schools and high schools in Dallas, it does cover the expense for most elementary schools in the Diocese.
“There are some families where this would be a game changer for them, especially if they have multiple children,” said Dr. Alonzo. “Because it’s one thing if you have one child, but if you three or four, this is something that now possibly, you know, you may only consider sending one child because of your economic situation at home versus now being able to send the whole family.”
But many parishioners were not happy upon receiving a political directive from Bishops asking them to personally contact Texas lawmakers and support school choice.
One emailed WFAA, telling us:
“This is a conflict of interest and should be retracted. Will priests begin asking how we vote in the confessional and requiring penance if we didn’t follow instructions? Will blessings/support/prayers be withheld if I end up on the opposite side of the Diocese on some other political issue?”
Another parishioner from Richardson wrote the Dallas Morning News:
“The Catholic Church has not urged parishioners to invest political energy on children being shot, a skyrocketing homeless crisis or the lack of adequate health care for a huge portion of Texans. Yet, this communication urges us to take action on a matter that increases revenue to private schools,” she said. “I am also a parent who pays full tuition for my children to attend Catholic schools. I am fearful for the path we are on as we are now being told to support political issues that have a multifaceted impact on society beyond our Catholic schools and Catholic faith.”
Dr. Alonzo says she received some of those emails and letters as well and she’s tried to pick up the phone and talk to them.
But at the end of the day, she argues that parents have a right to determine how some of their tax dollars will be used.
“I’m paying my property taxes and taxes on top of the tuition that I’m paying for my children to attend a private school. But if I was able to have the ability to say I want a portion of that money to be able to offset the cost of educating my child within the school that I believe is going to meet their needs, then I think I have that right as a parent,” she told us.
To hear more about why Bishops put out a political call-to-action for this issue and not others, listen to this full episode of Y’all-itics. Cheers!