White House Summit on Inner-City Children and Faith-Based Schools


  • Moderator: Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
  • Panelist: Dr. Nancy Grasmick, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools
  • Panelist: Stephen Goldsmith, former Mayor of Indianapolis

Thank you, Secretary Spellings, for that kind introduction. And thank you for forcing the nation to focus on closing the achievement gap.

Your leadership has been critical in helping teachers, principals, and parents turn around our public schools.

I want to thank President Bush for elevating support for inner-city children and faith-based schools to the national level, and for bringing together such luminaries as Mayor Goldsmith and Superintendent Grasmick to discuss it.

I've had the privilege of seeing this issue from many perspectives-as a proud product of parochial schools, a public school teacher, Mayor of Syracuse, and acting HUD secretary.

And let me tell you, if anyone thinks the health of our cities is not directly related to the health of our parochial schools, they're mistaken.

While public schools do the heavy lifting-educating 90 percent of all K-12 students-parochial schools play a critical role.

First, they offer a quality education, and not just in the early grades.

Studies show that Catholic high schools have a 99 percent graduation rate, and 97 percent of their graduates go on to higher education.

Second, they offer opportunity.

Parochial schools reach millions of kids who do not have the most privileged background-and who may not even be Catholic!

They do so by providing a quality education at a lower cost than other private schools. Families who might otherwise be trapped in a failing school would be hurt tremendously if this option were taken away. After all, kids in the city deserve the same opportunities as kids in the suburbs.

Finally, they offer structure, a “home away from home.”

Parochial school teachers are passionate about what they do. I've seen it. Their students are like part of a larger family. Call it “tough love” if you will. But it's one of the best antidotes to life on the streets.

I know how important this sense of belonging can be.

As Mayor, I fought the growing menace of gangs. Faith-based schools were an important ally.

Here at HUD, we fight to ensure that affordable and public housing does not fall into disrepair.

Again, we count on the influence of these schools to offer stability.

Today, however, these schools need our help.

Catholic school enrollment has declined-from over 5 million in the 1960s to about 2.3 million today.

In 1998, the Catholic Diocese of Syracuse ran 49 schools; today, that number is 29. This has impacted nearly 5,700 children.

So how do we give back to the schools that have given us so much?

First, we must work together as partners-at the community, state, and federal levels-to find creative ways to keep their doors open.

When I was mayor, I worked with Father Joseph Champlain to create an endowment fund for his Guardian Angel Society. This fund was aimed at providing scholarships to the kids at the Cathedral School in Syracuse.

We engaged the entire community-from grassroots charities to business boardrooms-to give back to these kids who deserved a safe, stable educational experience in some of the poorest neighborhoods. To give them an education, an opportunity, and structure.

We worked with the community to donate books and computers. We organized Secret Santas at Christmas and field trips such as taking the kids to Radio City Music Hall's Christmas show. For five years, we held back-to-school barbecues for both public and private school kids with donated food and equipment and gave each child a donated backpack filled with school supplies.

In other words, we wanted to fill in the gaps which schools often face between low tuition rates and high costs.

Did it succeed? Absolutely. In fact, a few of the kids we helped now attend Georgetown University. And was it worth it? You bet.

That is why I strongly believe government should support faith-based schools and institutions, the ones doing the hard work of keeping communities healthy. President Bush has been a tremendous leader on this front, as evidenced by this Summit, and by his budget priorities.

For our part, HUD's Continuum of Care program awards money to faith-based organizations, enabling them to care for hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals and others.

We're also giving these groups the tools and training to help themselves.

In 2004, HUD's Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives launched the Art and Science of Grant-Writing Training. Through it, we train more people than any other federal agency in grant-writing.

Since then, we've trained nearly 30,000 individuals to write creative and effective grant requests. Fifty training sessions are scheduled in 2008 in cities across the country.

These are just a few of the many innovative ways we can help. I look forward to hearing about many more. Thank you.

Content Archived: January 24, 2012