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Dolman: It's not NYC's role to save Catholic schools

Anthony Weiner is questioned by the media in

Anthony Weiner is questioned by the media in front of his Park Avenue South apartment building in Manhattan. (May 15, 2013) Credit: Charles Eckert

Let’s start with the nice stuff first. Unlike other Democratic mayoral candidates, Anthony Weiner has not wasted his breath inveighing against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s school reforms. Weiner doesn’t seem to mind the mayor’s charter-school push, and he has said kind things about Bloomberg’s hard-driving spirit of innovation.

But standing in front of a closed Catholic school yesterday, the former congressman took a few steps beyond reason and landed in an ideological mosh pit.

As the website reported, he outlined a plan to rescue struggling Catholic schools by “giving them essentially a seat at the table at the highest realm” of New York City’s public school bureaucracy.

Weiner would do this by beefing up an outfit called the Non-Public Schools Unit, buried within the operations division of the city’s Education Department. It currently distributes money and services to which nonpublic schools are entitled thanks to state and federal programs—for example, cash that underwrites loans for textbooks or computer software.

Weiner thinks nonpublic schools are failing to take full advantage of such programs, says, and he wants to fix that. He also wants to match state money with city money to boost technology in nonpublic schools.

Is that wrong?

Uh, yes. It’s not like the New York City public school system is swimming in cash. While it has an annual budget of nearly $25 billion, it has 1.1 million pupils to serve and 1,700 schools to maintain. It has seen big gains in graduation rates. It has seen major declines in dropout rates. But every decimal point of its hard-fought progress has demanded vast amounts of time and training and treasure.

I’m sure Weiner knows this. So why is he proposing to expand the Tweed Courthouse’s mandate beyond the city’s high-need public school enrollment to a constituency not part of its core mandate?

Here’s an educated guess. Sixty-two percent of the city’s population is Catholic. If you’re Anthony Weiner, you’re imagining an electoral bonanza ripe for harvesting.

We’re incredibly diminished as the parochial system falters. The Archdiocese of New York has been forced to close 56 schools since 2011 alone. The Catholic system has worked miracles for years in providing students with first-rate educations in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.

But New York has its hands full with its own education battles. Saving the Catholic school system—as worthy as that goal is—isn’t part of its job description. Besides, church and state must keep an arms-length distance for legal reasons.
Weiner needs to back off.

If elected mayor, he will be doing well just to solidify the gains of the last decade and use the nation’s largest school system to give students an education that can enrich their intellectual lives and boost their financial prospects.

We’re not there yet.