Choice in education among top priorities this session for Catholic conference

| January 19, 2012 | 0 Comments

Education. Communication. Mobilization.

These three words were Jason Adkins’ mantra 10 months ago when he joined the Minnesota Catholic Conference as its executive director with the goal of helping the church effectively deliver its social teaching message both inside and outside the halls of the state Capitol.

With the 2012 Minnesota legislative session set to begin Jan. 24, the MCC is turning its attention to a host of initiatives, including winning lawmakers’ support for expanding parental choice in education through vouchers and a scholarship tax credit program, and continuing its public education efforts on the need to pass a constitutional amendment this fall defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

To achieve these goals, Adkins is relying on his three-point focus.

“I always go back to that,” he said in a Jan. 12 interview with The Catholic Spirit. “It’s all about educating and informing people about the issues, effectively communicating our message, and then getting people to put their faith into action.”

Catholics, both individually and collectively, need to be informing the public debate on these and other policy topics, Adkins said. “It’s not just the bishops’ responsibility; it’s everyone’s responsibility to be good citizens who educate themselves, their families and their communities about issues and laws that serve the common good.”

More options in education

To that end, the MCC — the public policy voice of the state’s bishops — is beginning an effort to mobilize Catholic and other non-public school parents in support of three education-related proposals this session:

  • Providing “opportunity scholarships” or vouchers to students in underperforming schools in the state’s largest cities so the students can attend a school of their choice. The Legislature passed a similar measure last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.
  • Creating an Equity and Opportunity in Education Tax Credit that would allow individuals and organizations to give money to a “school tuition organization,” which would then provide scholarships to students to attend non-public schools. Individuals and organizations that give to the STOs would receive a tax credit.
  • Expanding the state’s current income tax deduction and tax credit for lower-income families for education-related expenses.

Such efforts could save the state money, Adkins said, because the cost of educating a child in public schools exceeds what it costs to educate them in private schools. But, he added, the goal would be to expand the choices for students and families without overburdening non-public schools with government mandates that could interfere with the mission and operation of the schools.

“We want to help kids and their families escape from struggling schools and get them into educational environments that best serve their needs,” Adkins said. “No one should be denied the right to a good education. . . . We want to empower parents. We definitely think it’s a social justice issue.”

The MCC’s newly created Parent Advocacy Network will work to educate non-public school families about what is happening legislatively on the education front and help them become advocates for non-public schools.

“One of the things we’ve heard from legislators is that they don’t often hear from parents in non-public schools; they don’t know who that constituency is,” Adkins said. “Most legislators have non-public schools or Catholic schools in their districts, and I think even a few organized parents building a relationship with their legislator will greatly strengthen the non-public school lobby and defending non-public schools at the Legislature.”

Those interested in participating in the Parent Advocacy Network may do so by visiting the MCC website at http://mncc.org and signing up for the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network; click on “Education/Parent Advocacy Network” under “Interest.”

Other issues

The MCC will also be monitoring a number of other public policy concerns during the legislative session. Among them are:

  • Creation of a state health insurance exchange, pursuant to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Adkins said that if Minnesota doesn’t create its own health insurance exchange, the federal government will impose one. “Our position is let’s be involved in the creation of that exchange right now, working with groups like Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and the Catholic Health Association to ensure that coverage for abortion and things that are objectionable from a Catholic moral standpoint are not included in the coverage,” he said.
  • Assisting victims of human trafficking. The MCC will work to bolster the support network for victims of human trafficking following passage last year of a “safe harbor” bill that offers victims legal protections and additional support services. “Here in the community, the congregations of religious sisters have been leaders in working with victims of human trafficking,” Adkins said, “so we’re looking at ways to support those efforts both legislatively and in terms of charitable work as well.”
  • “Telemed abortions.” The MCC will be seeking to regulate or, if possible, ban this practice, in which doctors, via a video conference, counsel and help administer the first dose of the RU-486 abortion drug. “That’s a cause of concern, especially because RU-486 is proven to be a dangerous drug for women and even resulting in some deaths,” Adkins said.
  • New Vikings stadium. The MCC doesn’t take a position on the building of a new stadium, Adkins said. Gambling revenue, however, has been proposed as a possible source of funding for a stadium and, in general, MCC deems it imprudent to rely on gambling revenue to fund government activities.

Marriage & ongoing education

The MCC will continue its efforts in support of a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Marriage is a foundational issue that intersects with other important issues, including religious freedom, the creation and nurturing of human life and the economy, Adkins said. “This is part of the educational task — helping people see how all these different things fit together,” he said.

Part of the educational process is happening through the work of the Minnesota for Marriage coalition (http://www.minnesotaformarriage.com), which includes the MCC. The MCC also recently launched the blog “Unique for a Reason: Why Marriage Matters” at http://marriagematters.mncc.org.

More generally, both inside and outside the Capitol, the MCC said it will be helping legislators, Catholics and the public to understand why the church speaks out on public policy questions — no easy task in a an increasingly secular culture that often doesn’t want the church to make its views known in the public arena.

The conference will be using a variety of approaches, Adkins said, including public discussions and debates, church media, op-ed pages and by using the Minnesota Catholic Advocacy Network as well as social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter.

“The church doesn’t impose anything; we simply propose,” he said. “It’s our right and responsibility to do so, and all of us Catholics have the responsibility to take that on.”

Click here to view the 2012 Minnesota Legislature Guide for Catholics

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Category: Legislative Guide