Serving the Church in Texas

HB 1335: Parental choice helps children in foster care and with special needs, too

Michael Barba
Associate Director of Public Policy

My name is Michael Barba and I am testifying on HB 1335 on behalf of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

The Principle of Parental Choice. We strongly support parental choice and we applaud Rep. Simmons for authoring this bill, both because it:

  1. recognizes that parents are the primary educators of a child, and
  2. provides opportunities for special needs children and children placed into foster care.

In Amoris Laetitia,[1] Pope Francis wrote in support of parental choice. His writing animates the position of the TCCB on this issue and is worth quoting at length:

I feel it important to reiterate that the overall education of children is a “most serious duty” and at the same time a “primary right” of parents. This is not just a task or a burden, but an essential and inalienable right that parents are called to defend and of which no one may claim to deprive them. The State offers educational programs in a subsidiary way, supporting the parents in their indeclinable role; parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education – accessible and of good quality – which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents, but complement them. This is a basic principle: “all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.”[2]

HB 1335 rightly recognizes both the proper role of parents and the proper role of the state. The TCCB encourages the House Public Education Committee to also adopt this view.

Catholic Schools and Special Needs Students. Benita Gonzales, the Director of Support for Students with Exceptionalities for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, explains the current work of Catholic schools with special needs students:

As a member of our Catholic Schools office I advocate on behalf of the families and nearly 20,000 children in our schools.  I am writing to explain how private schools currently serve children with exceptionalities, which includes special needs and English Language learners within our Archdiocese.

Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston welcome students of all backgrounds, faiths and academic needs to experience the comprehensive education of mind, heart, and spirit.  We ensure that each and every student feels welcome and that their unique needs and learning styles are attended to and valued.

Our Catholic school system accommodates students with identified needs and provides instruction that builds a strong foundation for academic success in a safe and caring environment. Our unique environment demonstrates that as a private school system we are not only a viable option for a student’s academic need, but we are also unique in our ability to foster an environment where all children learn to care and embrace their differences.   The goal is to provide all students with the instruction they need to succeed as learners and achieve high standards alongside their friends and neighbors.

Of the 15 dioceses in Texas, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston maintains the largest private Catholic school system. We operate 60 schools: 10 high schools and 50 elementary and middle schools. In addition, we operate 13 inner city schools, which have a tuition structure that makes Catholic education accessible to low-income families.[3]

We serve children from the following public school districts:

Houston

Brazosport

Clear Creek

Conroe

Crosby

Cypress-Fairbanks

Dickinson

Fort Bend

Galena Park

Galveston

Goosecreek

Hitchcock

Humble

Klein

Lamar CISD

Pasadena

Pearland

Spring Branch

Texas City

Tomball

In addition, 7.5 percent of our students have special needs; 856 of them are in elementary or middle school, while 575 are in high school. These students speak 8 languages, and have the following types of needs:

  • 54 percent have Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder,
  • 16 percent have dyslexia,
  • 9 percent have learning disabilities,
  • 3.3 percent have autism, and
  • 17.5 percent have other special needs.[4]

By providing parents of special needs children a choice in education, you will not only ensure that our special needs families that are currently struggling to keep their children enrolled in our Catholic School Systems have an increased educational opportunity, but also help open doorways to other families that have felt choices were not available to them.

[1] Amoris Laetitia is an apostolic exhortation, which is a type of communication from the Holy Father which encourages people of good will to undertake a particular activity.
[2] Amoris Laetitia, #84.
[3] Under the Inner City Catholic School (ICCS) tuition structure currently maintained in Galveston-Houston, the amount of tuition is charged based upon family income. For example, families with 1 child who make less than $60,000 must pay $3,000 in tuition; families with 3 children making less than $60,000 must pay $5,500 in tuition. For more details, please contact the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.
[4] This includes: anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, down syndrome, pandas syndrome, language disorders, Tourettes, visual impairments, depression, sickle cell, deafness, speech impairments, ODD, emotional disturbances, cerebral palsy, Prader Willey syndrome, and adjustment disorder.

 

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