President George W. Bush has assured leaders of the Roman Catholic Church that he supports vouchers and will push for private school aid in Congress this year.
During the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast April 13 in Washington, D.C., Bush lauded Catholic schools and pledged to help them.
Catholic schools, Bush said in brief remarks, “have given millions of Americans the knowledge and character they need to succeed in life.”
Bush added, “Today, these schools are also serving thousands of non-Catholic children in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods. I am worried that too many of these schools are closing, and our nation needs to do something about it.”
During his State of the Union address in January, Bush vowed to add a voucher component to the No Child Left Behind bill, which is up for reauthorization this year. The Bush plan would provide vouchers worth $4,000 for private education tuition and other expenses.
Last year, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the administration’s support of a $100 million voucher scheme that would pay for tuition and private school tutoring for about 28,000 students.
Also attending the prayer breakfast were two Supreme Court justices – Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl spoke, criticizing legal abortion and stem-cell research.
Critics say the event is a partisan endeavor wrapped in religious garb.
“Let’s be honest, this event would be more accurately labeled the ‘Republican Catholic Strategy Breakfast,’” said Chris Korzen of Catholics United for the Common Good, a liberal social justice group.
“Its organizers have a clear track-record of putting partisanship above church teaching. My concern is that the general public is looking at this and thinking that it’s affiliated with the Catholic Church,” he told the Religion News Service. “It’s not.”
Leonard Leo, a member of the prayer breakfast’s board and former Catholic Outreach Director for the Republican National Committee, said Democrats had been invited, but he wasn’t sure any attended.
Later in the day, Bush met with Catholic school officials at the White House to reaffirm his support for vouchers and other forms of aid.