By Msgr. Jamie J. Gigantiello
When we reflect on the COVID-19 crisis, I pray we can look back on this period as the great turning point for our Catholic schools. Amid the suffering and uncertainty, the light of our Catholic schools shone through, especially in Brooklyn and Queens. At the initial epicenter of the pandemic, our school communities came together — getting remote learning up and running, delivering mobile devices to our students, and even doing “car parades” to bring cheer to families at their homes.
Yet, for all our successes, we witnessed the closing of six of our beloved schools. The sudden decrease in tuition collection, loss of fundraising revenue, and enrollment uncertainty were all contributing factors. In my role as Vicar for Development for the Diocese of Brooklyn, I oversee Futures in Education, which awarded $900,000 in tuition relief in response to COVID-19, thanks to our faithful donors. That brought the total support for the year to $8.4 million — enough to make an impact, but not enough to help all families in need.
Now, there is a bill in Washington that can help our Catholic schools continue to shine. The CARES Act would provide needed funding to schools across the country but there is debate about whether Catholic schools should be included, even though it has been adjudicated by the Supreme Court that religious schools are eligible for such funding.
Both Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have expressed the importance of minority students getting their fair share of funding, yet they cave to teachers’ unions when it comes to funding private education; de Blasio’s Department of Education is even delaying the distribution of $91 million in federal aid allocated for NYC private schools. Catholic schools don’t just talk about changing children’s lives; for over 200 years, our schools have been champions of social justice, providing quality education to immigrants and underserved communities who have sought to break the cycle of poverty.
Catholic schools shine because our faith-based approach forms the whole child. We believe that parents are a child’s first educators and they know their child’s needs. Parents want our schools — we should not let their financial situation block their ability to give their child the best educational opportunity.
Every Brooklyn and Queens Catholic school has a detailed plan to reopen this fall to provide as much in-person learning as is physically possible in accordance with state guidelines. Those plans were put together with dedication, resolve, and care for every child and member of our school communities. We cannot let the financial constraints of this pandemic stand in the way of our children’s learning.
Join us in reaching out to our U.S senators asking for inclusion of Catholic schools in the CARES Act by visiting
www.EquityforCatholicSchools.com or calling 855.238.4092.
Also, if you can support our efforts, please visit www.futuresineducation.org to sponsor a child. And, if you are a parent, enroll your child in one of our schools today.
Let’s all do our part to help our Catholic schools continue to shine.
Msgr. Jamie J. Gigantiello is vicar for development for the Diocese of Brooklyn.