Connections: Cranston Prayer Banner->Teacher Pay->Failing Catholic Schools

Back when TLC actually put on programs that reflected their actual name (The Learning Channel) instead of just reality crap, there once was a show called Connections, hosted by a balding English dude with glasses named James Burke. I loved that show. In it, Burke would link seemingly unrelated items through history. (Like getting from sugar to atomic weapons). This morning, I felt like I went down a similar path as the Cranston school prayer banner led me to Rhode Island’s attempts to equalize teacher pay in the late 1960’s and how that ultimate failure played a part in the decline of Catholic schools in the state. Interested? Read on.
It started when I read the judge’s decision on the Cranston school prayer banner. In it, he bases much of his reasoning for removing the banner on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lemon vs. Kurtzman, which established a three part test for determining the establishment of religion. From Judge Lageux’s finding (p.28):

According to the Lemon v. Kurtzman analysis, a governmental practice, or legislative act, must satisfy three tests in order to survive an Establishment Clause challenge. It must: “(1) reflect a clearly secular purpose; (2) have a primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion; and (3) it must avoid excessive government entanglement with religion.”

While Judge Legeux provides other “tests”, he relies greatly on Lemon (and, interestingly, puts great weight on the Cranston public’s reaction–from fellow students, to School Committee Members, to Mayor Fung–to Ahlquist’s request to remove the banner. In essence, her instigation resulted in a reaction that, according to the judge, confirmed her fears. But I digress).
What I then discovered is that Lemon actually dealt with a Rhode Island statute–originally challenged under DiCenso vs. Robinson–as well as the Pennsylvania Lemon vs. Kurtzman. Both had to do with sending public funds to private schools. In the case of Rhode Island (from the Supreme Court ruling, emphasis mine):

The Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act was enacted in 1969. It rests on the legislative finding that the quality of education available in nonpublic elementary schools has been jeopardized by the rapidly rising salaries needed to attract competent and dedicated teachers. The Act authorizes state officials to supplement the salaries of teachers of secular subjects in nonpublic elementary schools by paying directly to a teacher an amount not in excess of 15% of his current annual salary. As supplemented, however, a nonpublic school teacher’s salary cannot exceed the maximum paid to teachers in the State’s public schools, and the recipient must be certified by the state board of education in substantially the same manner as public school teachers.
In order to be eligible for the Rhode Island salary supplement, the recipient must teach in a nonpublic school at which the average per-pupil expenditure on secular education is less than the average in the State’s public schools during a specified period….The Act also requires that teachers eligible for salary supplements must teach only those subjects that are offered in the State’s public schools. They must use “only teaching materials which are used in the public schools.” Finally, any teacher applying for a salary supplement must first agree in writing “not to teach a course in religion for so long as or during such time as he or she receives any salary supplements” under the Act.

The “appellees” (ie; plaintiffs) were Rhode Island taxpayers who “brought this suit to have the Rhode Island Salary Supplement Act declared unconstitutional and its operation enjoined on the ground that it violates the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.” In this case, the Rhode Island taxpayers won as the court ruled that such public/religions “entanglements” were unconstitutional. (The court also didn’t like the idea that the necessary government auditing required in the statute relied upon the State examining the books of many a private, parochial school or church).
So what have we got? In the late ’60s, public school teachers were having success in collectively bargaining higher salaries and private (ie; Catholic) schools in Rhode Island were experiencing a lay teacher shortage. As summarized by the appellate court that dealt with the DiCenso case:

The Salary Supplement Act [includes] specific legislative findings: that non-public elementary schools enroll 45,000 students, or 25 per cent of Rhode Island’s elementary school children; that because of the numbers enrolled, these schools are vital to Rhode Island’s educational effort; and that the rising cost of teachers’ salaries makes it increasingly difficult for these schools to maintain their traditional quality….The financial crisis in these schools stems from the rapidly changing composition of their faculties. As recently as ten years ago, the Archdiocese of Providence relied almost exclusively on nuns to staff its school system. Lay teachers filled only 4 or 5 per cent of the system’s 1200 teaching positions. By 1969, lay teachers constituted one third of the teaching force….Each shift from a teaching sister to a lay teacher represents a threefold increase in salary expense (i. e., a shift from approximately $1800 to $5500 at present levels). Moreover, the increasing salary levels in public schools make the task of recruiting lay teachers annually more expensive.
…A comparison of past and predicted salary levels [shows]…[i]n 1968-1969, a starting lay salary in the parochial schools was $5000 a year. In 1969-1970 the diocesan school system offered $6000, hoping that 15 per cent of this amount, or $900, would be paid by the state under the Supplement Act. In the meantime, however, the standard beginning salary for public elementary school teachers in Providence and elsewhere has increased from $6000 to $7000.

Ultimately, because of its unconstitutionality, this attempted remedy failed and many Catholic schools–School Choice 1.0, if you will–were impacted and, ultimately, closed.
ADDENDUM: There is a case study written by Patrick Conley and Fernando Cunha that is out there, but I couldn’t get my hands on it (for free–I’m not payin’ for it!).
* NOTE: To be sure, there still remain parochial schools in Rhode Island, but they no longer educate the 25% of Rhode Island students they once did. Affordability isn’t the only reason for the decline in number; the fading importance of religion in our culture is also a factor. Incidentally, my kids go to public schools.

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Contrarian View
Contrarian View
10 years ago

This is another example of the pervasive Leftist nihilism of the RI establishment that makes me so happy to have left the state behind.

10 years ago

It’s amazing how many “private” disputes are resolved when government entanglement is removed from the picture. Marriage is another good example.
Ditto, Contrarian. Congratulations on leaving RI – something far more people should do and stop propping up the failed statist experiment with tax dollars.

Sammy in Arizona
Sammy in Arizona
10 years ago

Not to forget that while a high-profile battle raged over a mosque near ground zero in Manhattan, heated confrontations, by Tea-Baggers and right-wing kooks had also broken out in hundreds of communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations.
Freedom of religion..Conservative style

10 years ago

I object to your use of the word “failing” to describe financially struggling Catholic schools.
From the perspective of academics and student achievement, Catholic schools are far from failing.

10 years ago

I don’t know why you send your children to public school,maybe economic reasons,or religious reasons,or others I can’t think of. But don’t you think your children deserve the best education they can possibly have?
Honestly,I’m a grandma and I don’t believe that will happen if you keep them in public school.
They will miss some deep education. I do believe that.

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