Brief: Private School Autonomy

February 22, 2019

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A Catholic perspective:

The Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) supports laws which maintain and protect the freedom of private schools.

Freedom is the highest sign that men and women are made in the divine image and is a sign of the dignity of every human person.[1] Every person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being.

However, freedom can become self-centered and uncontrolled, thereby dividing us from relationships, friendships, and associations. Freedom most powerfully exists where reciprocal bonds link people to one another so that each person may fulfill his personal vocation; seek the truth; profess his religious, cultural, and political opinions; choose his line of work; and participate in economic, social, and political initiatives. On the other hand, freedom must also include the ability to refuse to participate in associations that hinder one’s goodness.[2]

At its core, freedom is a person’s ability to control himself for the sake of his good and the good of others.[3] A person who is a mature and responsible judge of what’s good for himself and others is one who insistently searches for truth and acts in accord with truth.[4]

Furthermore, every child has a right to receive—meaning that parents have the obligation to provide—an education which responds to the needs of the whole person.[5] Schools are established to help meet this need, and because religious education meets essential human needs, a lack of religious instruction hinders a child’s education.[6]

In respect for parents’ freedom and their duty to their children, legislators should maintain and protect the freedom of private education. Doing so will encourage parents and other citizens to promote the common good through their own initiative. Legislators should avoid unduly burdening private schools, which results in depriving parents of an ability to fulfill their duties and creates excessive growth in public agencies dedicated more to impersonal bureaucratic rulemaking than educating children for a life of virtue.[7]

Therefore, we will seek to limit unnecessary regulatory burdens imposed on private schools and oppose any legislation that infringes upon their charitable status, institutional mission, or religious autonomy. We will collaborate on legislation that seeks limited, reasonable requirements to ensure a safe and supportive education for all students.

[1] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, § 17; Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1705, 1730; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libertatis Conscientia, § 28.

[2] CSDC § 200-201; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annusv, § 17.

[3] CSDC § 200.

[4] CSDC § 141-143.

[5] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia [On Love in the Family], March 19, 2016. § 83-84.

[6] Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith. October 15, 1982. § 3, 56.

[7] CSDC § 354, 412.

We will collaborate on legislation
that seeks limited, reasonable
requirements to ensure a safe and
supportive education for all students.

Texas law and policy:

Primary and secondary Catholic schools have operated in Texas since 1681. At the request of bishops and superintendents, the state began to accredit Catholic schools in 1971. However, education reforms in 1984 resulted in state agency staff devoting little time to private schools, and in 1986, the State Board of Education (SBOE) recognized that associations certified by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission (TEPSAC) have accreditation standards comparable to the state’s standards.[8] Since then, TEPSAC has defined private PK-12 curriculum standards, requiring private schools to comply with the SBOE’s applicable rules on basic skills in elementary curriculum and appropriate subjects in secondary curriculum, as modified by a school’s philosophy and objectives.[9] Figure 1 indicates private school enrollment is significant and, despite being sensitive to market downturns, has increased at an average rate of 5 percent annually since 1993.[10]

Important laws for private schools include that they:

  • cannot be prohibited by a state law,[11]
  • can make personnel decisions related to religious ministers,[12]
  • are included under limited liability protections,[13]
  • may appoint school marshals;[14]
  • may collect a convenience fee on tuition payments,[15] and
  • must comply with health and safety requirements.[16]

Principle for bill monitoring: The TCCB monitors and amends bills to ensure none unduly burden the autonomy of private schools.


[8] For the history of accreditation, see: TEPSAC, TEPSAC Policy Manual September 21, 2016. 1-3; TCCB, 2017-18 Guide to Quality and Effectiveness, iii-iv.

[9] TEPSAC Policy Manual 17. Cf. 19 TAC Ch. 74 § 2-3.

[10] National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: 1997, 1998, 2007, 2008, 2016.

[11] U.S. Supreme Court, Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510 (1925).

[12] U.S. Supreme Court, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC 565 U.S. 171 (2012).

[13] Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 84.005 – 84.006.

[14] Occupations Code § 1701.001(8).

[15] Business and Commerce Code § 111.002.

[16] Health and Safety Code Ch. 37; Education Code Ch. 38.

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