Good intentions sometimes come with unintended consequences. Such is the case with a proposal to move students from their failing Buffalo schools into Catholic schools.
Buffalo School District officials are working on a plan to smooth such transfers using scholarship money provided through the Bison Fund. It seemed like the perfect plan: students would have the chance for a better education and the Catholic schools would have more students to help keep their doors open.
However, if those students leave public schools for a better, but private, education, they will lose their eligibility for Say Yes Buffalo scholarship assistance. The Say Yes program guarantees full tuition payments for graduates of Buffalo Public Schools at a long list of colleges, and also provides other student support services.
But what other choice do many of these students have? There aren’t enough seats in public schools in good standing to handle the 2,000 students who want transfers out of underperforming schools. If they continue attending their current schools, they risk not graduating at all.
The district’s chief of student support services recently updated the School Board on progress in talks with the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. The plan is for donors to provide funding for the Bison Fund, which would then provide tuition help on a sliding scale for students to attend Catholic schools.
The talks should continue in an effort to resolve details despite the concern that transferring students would lose their eligibility for Say Yes scholarships.
Here’s why: Many of the students from low-income families would qualify for significant tuition grants and scholarships anyway. The Say Yes promise to fill in any gaps in tuition would not need to be called upon in those cases. That would make transferring to Catholic schools a win-win for students and their parents.
One potential problem with the transfers is that the diocese wants students only in certain grade levels. And those students would have to meet any entrance criteria of the schools they want to attend. Superintendent Pamela C. Brown is absolutely correct in saying the district needs to be clear with families about the criteria. Crystal clear.
Transferring huge numbers of public school students to religious private schools would be unthinkable if the public schools were doing an adequate job of education. There is the issue of separation of church and state, which is dealt with by having Catholic school tuition paid by a third party, the Bison Children’s Scholarship Fund. The fund provides tuition help for students at religious and other private schools.
There are no easy or perfect solutions to providing students the quality education they are entitled to. At this point, city students who want transfers out of poor schools are stuck where they are.
Catholic schools could provide an option for some of them. For the rest, parents are at least being told that they will remain on the list for transfer next year to better public schools without having to reapply.