Proposal to strip Catholic school students of transportation withdrawn

A week after its introduction, a budget amendment that would have stripped Catholic school students of their right to transportation to school has been withdrawn.

The amendment, introduced by Education Committee chair Rep. Martha “Marty” Walz, D-Boston, called for the elimination of the language within the state law that guaranteed private and parochial school students’ equal rights to transportation by local school districts.

The proposed amendment, 914, was filed April 24 to alter a statute that had been written into the state law following battles to ensure equity in the 1950s. It was withdrawn after the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and Catholic school advocacy groups urged citizens to contact their representatives during the week-long debate period ending May 1.

One of the groups opposing the amendment was Parents’ Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE), which sent out an email alert to nearly 2,000 Catholic school supporters in the state. PACE executive director Frederick M. Kalisz Jr. said that, while he is happy the amendment has been withdrawn, he is concerned that it could be reintroduced and urged supporters that it should not be taken as an unequivocal victory.

“It’s out of the process right now, but it’s an issue that we have to be vigilant on,” said Kalisz, expressing concern that the amendment did not talk about cutting money in the budget, but rather was viewed as a vehicle to cut the language and these students’ equal rights.

Kalisz said he and others at PACE were pleased by the community’s response.

“We think that cool-heads prevailed in this. This was not a raucous debate-- we got our message out and our parents effectively communicated with their representatives,” he said.

“But, I honestly expect that this may be revisited at a later time and I want to make sure that I have cost-ammunition to show the numbers,” said Kalisz.

Kalisz said the numbers show it is far more cost-effective to allow for the transportation of non-public school students than it is for public schools to absorb the costs of educating all students in the state.

The approximate $360 it costs per non-public school student to be transported to and from school each year pales in comparison to the $9,500 the local municipality would have to pay for each student to go to public school should they not have adequate transportation, he said.

Citing a talk by Sen. Stephen Pangieotakos of Lowell at PACE’s annual Advocacy Day on March 11, Kalisz said, “If you take all of the Catholic school students in the state of Massachusetts,” which is approximately 50,000 students, “and they were to attend public school, Massachusetts would have to raise an additional nearly $480 million a year to fund their education.”

“There are some tremendous financial impacts here,” said Kalisz. “Not from providing the service, but from taking it away.”

On March 30, three weeks prior to the filing of Walz’s amendment, The Boston Globe weighed in on the issue in an editorial, entitled “Time to end the free ride.”

In the editorial, the newspaper argued that a ride to school is a right that should be open to question. Further, it said, “The Menino administration should seek the approval of the Legislature to exempt the city’s schools from the current busing requirement.”

Rep. Walz did not respond to requests for comment on her motive in filing the amendment or on its withdrawal.

Referring to previous statements by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, Kalisz said, “One of the greatest services the Catholic Church provides to citizens in our state is Catholic education.” Adding, “It is a tremendous savings and we must protect it.”