School Choice?

01-07-2018Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

It looks like we really are living just this side of the gates of hell: “Army and Homeland Security prepping teachers for the gunman at the door”, so reads a recent headline. Apparently, the US Army and the Department of Homeland Security have created a computer based simulator that trains teachers on how to best react in an active-shooter situation. Many will respond: good we need to do all we can to keep our children and our schools safe. Pretty much the same as when airport security and the TSA were implemented. It’s just a way of life now. But does it have to be this way?

Not to wax nostalgic, but it was not that long ago when none of this would have entered our minds. Our whole way of life has changed and not for the better. Why do we have to accept that this is just the way it is? What changed?

After 9/11 my fear was that unless we acted swiftly and decisively we would become like Israel, facing daily the threat of terrorism. And so, it has happened. Sadly, we just became used to it and altered our lives to deal with the inconvenience and intrusion of terror and violence. It won’t end until the consequences are unbearable. And so, as a Pastor of a Parish with a School, I will continue to make sure that the necessary precautions are in place. It’s not the world I want our children to get used to or to grow up in. Nor is it what I want my teachers and staff to have to deal with.

But the good news is that it is not all bad news for parents of school age children. The recently passed Tax Bill offers some help to parents who send their children to private or religious schools. The 529 Savings Accounts, that many parents and grandparents use to save money to pay for college tuition can now be used to pay for tuition in grades K-12 and not incur any federal tax liability (up to $10,000 a year).

The 529 Savings Accounts are run by the states and Arizona has a few different versions that allow parents to withdrawal funds tax free each year for tuition and tuition related costs (computers) as well as claim a tax deduction for contributions to the plan. (Visit http://www.az529.gov for more detailed information).  Additionally, a parent can open an account while the child is in utero. So, by the time the child is six years old you could have funds available to help pay for tuition beginning in kindergarten. I would urge parents to speak to their financial institutions or advisors for more details.

For us in Arizona this is another way to help to parents who exercise their right to choose the educational environment for their children. In addition to the AZ Tuition Tax Credit that any tax payer can donate to and make available for tuition assistance, including the Catholic Education Arizona Program that we operate. This new change in tax law will help lessen the burden of tuition costs for K-12th grade students.

And just a reminder that you can donate to Catholic Education Arizona or any of the other Tuition Organizations in the state by April 15 and claim the credit for the 2017 tax year. It’s easy and cost free. If you need more information just contact the school or Parish office or visit www.catholiceducationarizona.org.

With the advent of school choice, things have changed that allow parents to have a wider choice of educational environments for their children. That benefits everyone but especially our children. What we have yet to do, is put the same energy and determination in changing the physical environment so that threats of violence in our society and our school are greatly diminished.

When that happens our teachers and principals can focus their attention on student learning, curriculum, and teacher development that does not include how to deal with an active shooter situation, God forbid.

We can make that happen if we have the willingness. That’s real school choice.

Love,

Fr. John B.

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