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Posted at 01:58 PM ET, 11/30/2011

Diocese letter pushed principals to promote vouchers

Just how involved did the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh get in the effort to promote vouchers? Very.

This is clear in an Oct. 20 letter that Dr. Ronald R. Bowes, assistant superintendent for policy and development in the diocese, wrote in October to Catholic school principals.

It calls for them to be “relentless” in promoting school choice, in part by telling parents who had received financial aid that they had to call their state legislators and push for school choice legislation to receive more financial aid the next year.

Other diocese officials disavowed the letter a few weeks later, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette . Another letter was sent out Nov. 16 saying that Bowes had misstated policy about financial aid.

Here’s the context in which the letters were sent:

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) set school choice as his top priority; he was the keynote speaker at the American Federation for Children’s national pro-choice conference in Washington, D.C., last May.

 Fueled by more than $6 million in voucher PAC contributions, Senate Bill 1 passed the Pennsylvania Senate this year and was sent on to the House.

Because of changing demographics and the proliferation of tuition-free charter schools, Catholic schools have seen their enrollments plummet over the past decade, with many schools closing and more closures expected. As a result, Catholic school officials see vouchers as a potential lifeline.

Bowes was a staunch advocate for school vouchers when he was appointed as assistant superintendent for policy and development in the diocese in 1995.  He also serves on the board of directors for the REACH Foundation, a leading advocacy group for school choice in Pennsylvania. 

Though school choice has bipartisan support, many Democrats oppose vouchers. The Republican leadership of the Pennsylvania House is trying to craft legislation that can garner enough votes to pass the bill before the end of the year. Next year is an election year, and it is assumed that it will be much harder to pass controversial legislation.

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By  |  01:58 PM ET, 11/30/2011

 
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