As our state continues to discuss reforming and strengthening our current public education system, it is worth looking at a system that is working today to educate and develop students prepared for college and life beyond. That system is our Idaho Catholic Schools.
More than 2,100 students are enrolled in our Treasure Valley Catholic schools. Five, and soon six, elementary schools — St. Joseph’s, Sacred Heart, St. Mary’s, St. Mark’s, St. Paul’s in Nampa, and this fall, St. Ignatius — serve 1,300 students from pre-K to 8th grade. Bishop Kelly High School serves 800 students.
There has been much in the press lately about school choice. Catholic schools represent the largest alternative to the public education system in our state and in our country. It is important to understand what these Catholic schools in our communities provide. They are significant contributors to our American society with high academic standards, high graduation rates, and a high percentage of students “going on” to and completing college, all supported by strong moral values, deep faith and a commitment to social justice. And this is all accomplished in a safe, caring and compassionate environment.
The goal of our Catholic schools is to make Catholic education accessible to anyone who wishes to attend. Our students represent diverse ethnicities and cultures. Twenty-five percent of our students come from faith traditions other than Catholic, and 25 percent receive some form of need-based financial aid.
While Catholic schools provide hundreds of thousands of dollars of need-based financial aid to families, there are families who still need more than we can provide. We believe that enabling all families, regardless of income, to choose religious education is a matter of justice. We need to make sure this choice is available to all families.
School choice does not mean abandoning or weakening the commitment we share and support through our tax dollars to the public school system. Providing scholarships for families based on need through tax credits for corporations or individuals who wish to support these scholarships is a just and humane thing to do and will not harm public schools. Public schools should build support based on their performance rather than keeping in place financial obstacles for families seeking faith-based or alternative education.
Speaking of performance, here at Bishop Kelly we are grateful for the accomplishments of our students, faculty and staff. Over 98 percent of our 185 graduates from the class of 2016 went on to college. Nearly 80 percent of those 185 graduates were offered merit-based scholarships that totaled $24.6 million. Our average test scores put us in the top 10 percent of the country and among the top scores in the state of Idaho. Over 70 percent of our student body participates in an extracurricular activity, and last year BK won five academic and five state championships, as well as the 4A School of Excellence award. This year we have already won four academic and two state championships.
Catholic schools are preparing students to be the future leaders in our communities, businesses and professions. Catholic schools really are the choice you can believe in.
Rich Raimondi is president of Bishop Kelly High School.