School choice, equal opportunity and America’s promise

Ron Matus
Father Scully

Father Scully

Many talk school choice and equal opportunity, but few do it as persuasively as Father Tim Scully.

Scully founded the Alliance for Catholic Education at the University of Notre Dame, a group working to transform and revive Catholic schools. A priest and political scientist, he pitches school choice as fundamentally American – or, at least, fundamental to an America that strives to live up to its ideals.podcastED-logo

“That’s a central tenet of our creed that we promise to every citizen … (that) every child will have an equal opportunity to realize his or her potential. And that is simply false. Simply false in this country,” Scully told redefinED in the podcast interview attached below. “How can we look in the mirror and kind of say, ‘Yeah, American democracy is a function of fair democracy’ when we don’t allow kids and parents to have a decent opportunity to escape the poverty under which they often have been born?”

Scully’s group is making the mirror more forgiving. ACE helps prepare teachers and leaders to work in inner-city Catholic schools. Its ACE Academies are turning a handful of  Catholic schools (including two in Florida) into models of reform. And for five months now, its reps have been criss-crossing the country in an RV to raise awareness about the value that Catholic schools have for all of us, whether we’re Catholic or not. (Scully was on a Florida leg of the tour when he stopped to chat with redefinED.) Last fall, Scully’s leadership earned him the William E. Simon Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Social Entrepreneurship from the Manhattan Institute.

Expanding school choice is key to Catholic school revitalization. Unlike their counterparts in other states, Catholic schools in Florida are seeing enrollment growth thanks to vouchers and tax credit scholarships. But, Scully said, support for school choice obviously goes far beyond its impact on any particular education sector.

“Even if Catholic schools were robustly financed, which of course is not the case, we would still be hearty, robust advocates of parental choice for one simple reason: It’s really a question of social justice,” he said. “It is so wrong to organize our school system in such a way that parents who happen to be able to afford only a home in a poor zip code are condemned to send their children” to schools that may not be the right fit for them.

Scully touched on other issues during the interview, including competition with charter schools. As long as there’s rough parity in public funding, he said, “Let’s go to toe-to-toe baby! I would take quality Catholic school education and put it against public option at any point.”

Enjoy the podcast.

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