2008-07-25 / Columnists

The Progressive

Discretionary Spending
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Some of my fondest memories and nightmares are associated with Blessed Sacrament School, a parish Roman Catholic elementary school on Staten Island. Diligent and dedicated Sisters of Charity taught me all my rudimentary skills in writing, mathematics, ethics, and history there. Many of my classmates have become professionals and most are engaged in rewarding works of endeavor both in their work and private lives. This school and many similar schools of all religions and ethnic backgrounds have served this nation well. Often, for many poor blue-collar working class people and minorities, these schools were the only beacon of hope and a vehicle to a successful life in the communities they serve. Public schools sometimes did not give many Americans the necessary education and learning experiences many parochial schools offered. For God and Country was the motto of my beloved cherished Blessed Sacrament.

At Blessed Sacrament we were taught geography (which has been abandoned by many educational institutions), sentence structure, multiplication tables (also abandoned today), and American civics. We were of course instructed in the basics of faith. Our heritage as children of immigrants was celebrated and the importance of now discarded values of hard work, family unity, and love of country despite its' faults was reinforced by the examples of our teachers. Many of us were ashamed of our ethnic background because of the hostility of the larger community that expressed itself with stereotypes in the cinema, prejudice, and sometimes violence. We felt at home being in a school that did not treat our parents as outsiders and with teachers who did not allow our ethnicity to be an excuse for failure.

In recent years many people in the conservative movement have been advocating parents be given a choice to choose the school their children. This choice was always there. My parents decided to send me to the parish school. They paid for the privilege. My school met all the state requirements of the day and we had daily prayer and my family's set of beliefs was taught. I was informed recently that city councilman Michael McMahon (who will be the Democratic party's candidate for Vito Fossella's congressional seat) gave my alma mater $5,000 from his discretionary spending funds that individual councilmen are given. I was appalled.

Why you may ask? First, I reviewed the discretionary spending of other councilmen and most of the funds go to religious groups, schools, faith based social organizations, veteran groups, animal welfare groups, and ethnic and cultural organizations. Most of us (including the progressive) would not have an objection to giving public funds to these groups. My objection is that the entire legislative body (the city council) should vote on the expenditure and the spending should be reviewed as to effectiveness', need, and if there is any violation of the necessary violation of the separation of church and state. The teaching nuns and the Christian Brothers, and Jesuits taught us this separation allows us all to choose our beliefs and is a protection for Catholics in this predominantly Protestant nation. If Americans wish to allow helping pay parents choose the type of education I received through vouchers or any other method, this cannot and must not appear to be sanctioning of any particular belief. This type of public funding should not and cannot be a drain on public school funding and improvement.

Teachers at all schools should be allowed to join the public school teacher's union or any other labor organization to ensure that the voucher system devised by social conservatives is not just an attack on school teachers unions.

Discretionary spending by politicians is fundamentally unsound because it gives an unfair advantage to incumbents, can lead to nepotism and fraud, and allows public funds not to be reviewed by the entire community but allows one person for purely political reasons to decide the allocation of funds.

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