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Advocates say vouchers for school choice about fairness.

CHICAGO * Hundreds of Catholic school students. parents and other supporters joined a school choice rally Sept. 25 at a Chicago building that houses Illinois state government offices.

The rally was aimed at demonstrating the need for more families to be able to enroll their children in the schools they choose. whether they are Catholic schools. other private schools, charter schools or other public schools.

In most cases. speakers said, the main barriers to school choice are economic.

"Parents are the primary educators of their children and deserve the right to choose their children's education." said Patrick Landry principal of Maternity BVM School in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood.

Ninety-nine percent of the school's 231 students are Latino. and 95 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, he said. The average family income is $22,000 a year. and families are spending 10-20 percent of their income on tuition.

"They are making an investment in their children, because they want a life for their children that is better than theirs.- Landry said.

School choice advocates want the state to find a way to direct more money to nonpublic schools, whether by offering vouchers that would allow students to take a portion of the money their public school districts would have spent on educating them and applying it to the schools of their choice, or by allowing tax credits for private school tuition or for individuals and businesses that donate to scholarship funds.

Illinois does offer a tax credit for kindergarten through 12th-grade educational expenses: the maximum credit is $500 for families that spend $2,500 or more on tuition or other costs.

But that's a fraction of what parents pay for Catholic education.

The yearly tuition at Leo Catholic High School is $7,500, one of the lowest high school tuition rates in the Chicago archdiocese, said Philip Me-sina, principal of the all-male school. But it's still too much for most of the families who send their sons there: after financial aid and scholarships, the average Leo family pays $4,000 a year.

"It's a sacrifice every day for them." he said. "They want their children to get a good education. They're not looking for a handout. They're looking for what's fair"

Leo was among more than a score of Catholic elementary and high schools represented at the rally.

Trey Cobb. youth director of Educational Choice Illinois, challenged the young people in attendance to work for school choice. Cobb. a 17-year-old junior at DePaul University in Chicago. noted that he cannot yet vote, but he can make his voice heard.

"There is no progress without struggle," he said. "We need to go back to our schools, go back to our neighborhoods, and tell everyone what we were doing today".

Caption: --CNS/Catholk: New World/Karen Callaway Students from Ascension School in Oak Park, III., join a school choice rally in Chicago Sept. 25.

By MICHELLE MARTIN Catholic News Service

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Author:Martin, Michelle
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3IL
Date:Oct 10, 2014
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