The first State of the Union Address by President Obama was tonight, what did it mean for Catholic schools?  Here are the President’s words addressing education:

“Fourth, we need to invest in the skills and education of our people. (Applause.)

Now, this year, we’ve broken through the stalemate between left and right by launching a national competition to improve our schools. And the idea here is simple: Instead of rewarding failure, we only reward success. Instead of funding the status quo, we only invest in reform — reform that raises student achievement; inspires students to excel in math and science; and turns around failing schools that steal the future of too many young Americans, from rural communities to the inner city. In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. (Applause.) And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.

When we renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we will work with Congress to expand these reforms to all 50 states.”

True, the Obama administration has made progress and has been more reform oriented than most Democratic leaders with Race to the Top, increased teacher quality measures (like performance pay), and pushing for the expansion of Charter schools.  His last words about the geographically determined injustice in the Public school system hinted towards school choice (though based on his past policies, this is exclusively public school choice).  So what does this all mean for Catholic schools?  Very little.  The Administration has done nothing to support the plight of urban faith-based schools and has silently stood by while the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship dies a slow death.  Not much new to hope for in this speech.

But the theme of school choice and the educational injustices in the public system were echoed by a rising star in the Republican party, a Notre Dame graduate, moderate and newly elected Governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell.  On education, Governor McDonnell said:

“The President and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code.”

Again, an emphasis on school choice.  But unlike the the exclusive attention to public schools demonstrated by the Obama Administration, Gov. McDonnell is talking about full school choice, that includes all schools – private, faith-based, Charter and public. This authentic school choice does not rob poor families of the option of an education in faith for their children, “which in turn nurtures the soul of a nation.”

It was great to see Bob McDonnell do so well in his response and it is hopeful for school choice prospects and Catholic schools in Virginia.

I hope and believe his stock will continue to rise in the Republican party.

All Americans agree, that a young person needs a world-class education to compete in the global economy. As a kid my dad told me, “Son, to get a good job, you need a good education.” That’s even more true today.

The President and I agree on expanding the number of high-quality charter schools, and rewarding teachers for excellent performance. More school choices for parents and students mean more accountability and greater achievement.

A child’s educational opportunity should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not by her zip code.

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