What do Catholic schools mean to you?

Every week, we share stories of what Catholic education means to communities. Across the country, families’ lives are impacted every day thanks to schools that meet their needs.

There’s one story we haven’t told yet: Yours.

Click here to share your story.

Millions of students depend on Catholic education every day. But too often, their stories are not shared beyond the school walls.

As a result, the public and policymakers are content to let the status quo continue. When schools close and children no longer have access to a school they need, decision makers outside of the community do not realize the true loss.

That’s what we work to change. 

We share stories from across the country that would otherwise go untold. With your help, we make sure legislators know what a good school truly means for a community and a child’s life.

Thank you for sharing your Catholic school story. And thank you for standing with students across the country who need more access to an education that works for them.

PS: Keep reading to hear a story of what a Catholic education meant to one refugee family searching for the American dream

As I walked by the hotel bathroom, I saw my father throwing up in the sink. I immediately knew something was different. He looked me in the eye and told me, “Everything will be okay.” That was all I needed to hear. That was the first phrase I remember my father saying to me, surely it wouldn’t be the last. Father’s upset stomach was simply his body’s reaction to the first meal he ate in the United States.

I vividly recall the experience of leaving Africa and heading to our new home in the United States. It was late 2003 in Egypt and I remember the air was filled with a number of mixed emotions, followed by tears flowing at the moment. As my family filled the bus with other refugee families heading to the airport, I did not understand why our other family members were weeping as we were heading to the “Land of the Free.”

Isn’t this what we have been praying for? If so, why was everyone crying as if we would never see each other again? At the moment, I did not know this exodus to America would leave the most powerful image of my childhood experience. As we started our journey of tribulations and blessings in America, I was not sure of what the future had in hand, but I was confident in my Father’s words. “Everything will be okay.”

Omaha Nebraska became our new home. One would expect me to say we had nothing, but that would be false. We had each other, we had family, and we had a special blessing stored for us by God. That blessing was our now extended family, All Saints Catholic School, which I attended with the assistance of a scholarship.

At a very early age, my father ingrained the importance of education in our identity. Day in and day out repeating yet another one of his famous phrases, “Nyi ta asci sookuru ga,” meaning keep your focus on school. My parents worked countless hours to make sure we had a private education. Their hard work, along with All Saint’s flexibility, allowed us the privilege of receiving private education which has been a blessing from God. From All Saints, I attended Mount Michael Benedictine, which altered my life in so many positive ways. One of those being continuing my private education at Creighton University where I received a full ride academic scholarship.

My family, like many other immigrant families, did not come to America with much wealth. Therefore to send your children to private school takes hard work, persistence, and dedication, which my father has shown me through my 14 years of Catholic Education… I support school choice because expanding such policies will allow for more students with similar stories as mine to have a choice in their education, a choice that could change their lives.

Read Jacob’s full story here: https://www.federationforchildren.org/voices-archive/jacob-idra/

A Tale Of Two Schools

Last week, I wrote you about exciting news out of Florida. Strong school choice programs are helping a historic Catholic high school reopen in Key West. This story is not unique. In states across the country and elsewhere in Florida, school choice is helping schools rebound from historic struggles during the pandemic.

Another story reminds me of why it’s so important to keep supporting and expanding parent choices in education.

In Bolingbrook, Illinois, where far fewer school choice options are available to parents, a Catholic school that is a “bedrock of the community” will soon close. The administration had been having internal discussions about finances for years; the parents and families were left feeling blindsided and devastated.

This situation is all too common.

It’s what is at risk when the true costs of Catholic education pile up, schools can no longer make up the difference, and parents cannot afford to cover the price.

We fight for school choice so that no community has to face that dilemma.

Families should be able to access some of their tax dollars for education to use at the school of their choice, including Catholic schools.

Here’s the bottom line:

Every family should have access to a school that works for them.

And no school should have to close if it is serving critical needs in the community.

Let’s keep fighting for that world.

PS: Keep reading to hear a story of one student from Venezuela whose life was changed thanks to school choice

I know that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I’ve gone from being helped by others to helping others. I’ve found my place, my path, and I have clear goals for my future.  

My family immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when I was 12 years old. In Venezuela, my mother was a lawyer by trade. Since her credentials couldn’t carry over with our green cards, she was required to take on multiple jobs. My mom went from being a lawyer to working at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for 12 hours a day. She came home exhausted, but happy to see us and to hear that we were doing well in school. My parents will do anything to ensure my brother, and I get a quality education. 

My parents don’t have a lot of faith in public institutions because of the way Venezuela has declined. Therefore, I’ve always attended private school. For them, that was the answer. They wanted a school that would instill in us the values of hard work, discipline, and the pursuit of greatness. They hoped that private institutions would do that. So, although we struggled financially, they paid out- of -pocket for us to attend a private school.

In the eighth grade, when the time came to find a high school to attend, I heard about Christopher Columbus High School from some friends. I have friends whose dads, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, etc. have all gone to this school. I am not a legacy student, but I knew I had to attend Columbus. And my parents made it happen. They put their pride in the art of education. 

My unofficial motto is: Never give up and use your shortcomings and hardships as motivation to excel in the classroom and beyond. 

My freshman year at Columbus was financially strenuous on my family. We got so behind in payments that I was almost forced to drop out. That’s when we found out about the Step Up for Students scholarship! I am incredibly grateful because it allowed me to stay at Christopher Columbus High School. 

To pay tuition to two private schools, we lived in a small apartment with one bathroom, and we didn’t always have electricity and water. Now we’re in a nicer home, our electricity bill gets paid, and our water doesn’t get cut off. 

Read Jorge’s full story here: https://www.federationforchildren.org/voices-archive/jorge-gonzalez/

Key West Catholic High School Reopening

Across the country, many Catholic schools have been struggling or even forced to close. But there is a better way. In states with strong school choice programs, schools rebounded quickly after the pandemic. Families of modest means were able to send their children to the schools that worked for them. Schools kept operating.

Some exciting news out of Florida shows this real-world power of school choice.

In Key West, school choice expansion is helping a historic Catholic high school reopen.

Due to growing enrollment, the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea has announced a historic re-opening of the parish’s Catholic high school, set for the 2023-2024 school year… [Principal] Wright said that an expansion of student choice legislation in Florida, along with limited private school options in the lower Florida Keys, has created strong demand for Catholic education in Key West. There are also options for special needs children at the school.

Scholarship programs, available through Step Up for Students, will keep costs affordable for all families… “Florida, right now, is so supportive an environment for school choice. We have a good product, great teachers and a governor and a legislature who are finding ways for more and more students to find a way to afford private education.”

It’s incredibly encouraging to see this good news. It proves that parent and advocate voices matter! But across the country, many other schools continue to struggle, and we know our work is not done.

We’re working toward a world in which every family that wants to choose Catholic schools is able to, and no school that is serving the community has to close.

Why we fight

We’re proud to stand with Catholic schools and school choice. Schools and school leaders meet academic, spiritual, and practical needs every day.

Last week, the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) honored several of these leaders. Their contributions exemplify what Catholic education means to millions of Americans.

Sr. Rosemarie Nassif is a longtime advocate for every parent’s right to choose Catholic education. She received the Leonard F. DeFiore Parental Choice Advocate Award. This award honors a person or organization that has demonstrated outstanding leadership in promoting full and fair parental choice in education. We’re proud to have her as a member of our board.

We fight for school choice because it’s too important not to. Every family deserves the chance to send their children to a school that meets their needs.

Another NCEA honoree reminds us why Sr. Rosemarie and all of us work so hard for this cause. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Palm Coast, Florida, was recognized for its rural education program. The school partnered with its parish and another school about 45 miles away to launch an education program for migrant workers. These parents wanted a Catholic education for their children, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton provided it.

The first cohort of the rural education program was made up of 24 students. Every student received a Family Empowerment Scholarship through Florida’s school choice programs.

For these families who came to the US in search of the American Dream, this school means everything. And the school choice scholarships helped make it possible.

We’re fighting for a world in which every family has that chance.

Thank you for fighting with us.

Good Friday Reflections

Last night, I attended Holy Thursday mass in my town’s beautiful parish. The mass was offered in English and Spanish, and as I listened to the hymns and prayers, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, I thought about just how much our faith means to our communities.

In a world that seems determined to divide us along every possible line, the Church stands out as an example of a better way. It’s a bulwark for peace and unity when both feel more threatened than ever.

I sat among believers of all ages, races, and backgrounds and realized how quiet the noise that surrounds us everywhere else had become. It does not exist there, just like it doesn’t exist in Catholic churches and schools across the country.

This is why we say Catholic schools have meaning far beyond tests and textbooks.

These are the stakes when challenges come and they are forced to close. And it’s why we fight for school choice programs that can make sure no school is forced to close when it is serving the community.

In recent days, those of you in Tennessee and Iowa have stepped up to advocate for school choice bills in your states.

As we step back to spend time with family and friends over this Holy Week, I want you to know how much your voice means, to students in your community and across the country.

Thank you for standing up for students.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Good Friday and Happy Easter!

All my best,

Rebekah Bydlak
American Federation for Children