By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Financial relief for parents of Catholic school students may be on the way in terms of tax credits and direct assistance, President Donald Trump said during a conference call with Catholic educators and leaders April 26.

Dr. Melanie Palmisano, superintendent of the Catholic Schools Office for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and Rob Tasman, executive director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, were among 600 Catholic leaders who joined in the nearly one-hour long call with the president.

“The point was made that Catholic schools in the United States save the government $24 billion each year by educating students that the government would otherwise have to educate,” Palmisano said in an interview with The Catholic Commentator. “President Trump said he did not realize (the amount) was that high. He was surprised.”

Palmisano said Trump mentioned the possibility of tax credits for parents who pay tuition to Catholic schools.

The president also mentioned the possibility of a Micro Grant, which would provide direct financial assistance to families who normally send their kids to Catholic schools but might not be able to afford it for the 2020-21 school year because of the financial fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was pointed out that Catholic schools do excellent work, charging one-half to one-third of what public schools spend to educate children,” Palmisano said. “It is low cost, high quality education.”

Trump also said he would continue to support issues vital to the Catholic Church, especially abortion, religious freedom and school choice.

Crux, an online Catholic news organization, reported on the call after obtaining a recording of the event.

Trump repeatedly returned to his support of efforts to stop abortion and school choice.

Among those on the call were Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, California, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education.

Educators identified as being on the call were Paul Escala and Elias Moo, superintendents of Catholic education in the archdioceses of Los Angeles and Denver, respectively.

The Archdiocese of Denver emailed a statement from Moo on April 28 in which he said he explained to the president the ministry of Catholic schools in Colorado and the challenges Catholic education faces because of the pandemic.

“I spoke to the president about the long history of Catholic education in our country, and how our nation needs schools that provide an educational experience that forms the whole child and values the primacy of parents and of the soul of the human person,” Moo said.

He also said it was important for the church “to engage with public officials to discuss the issues that are central to our Catholic faith and mission,” regardless of an individual’s “political affiliation or preference.”

As he discussed his support of Catholic issues, Trump noted that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson also were on the call.

Trump repeatedly stressed to the participants his commitment to the pro-life cause.

In January, Trump became the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life in Washington, which protests the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

The president also reiterated his support for the Mexico City policy, which bars federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion and opposition to the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax exempt organizations, including churches, from supporting or opposing political candidates.

The president’s remarks lasted about 15 minutes before he fielded questions.

The topic of federal support to prop up Catholic schools was the primary concern expressed by participants. The need is particularly acute under the pandemic even though some schools have obtained forgivable Small Business Administration loans under the new Paycheck Protection Program.

Catholic school administrators nationwide face major questions as they prepare for the new academic year because of the potential loss of tuition from families whose wage-earners have suffered layoffs and the high expense of converting in-person classes to online learning.

Cardinal Dolan was the first participant to speak, according to the Crux account. He welcomed the support of DeVos, Carson and Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, calling them “cherished allies in our passion for our beloved schools.”

He stressed to Trump that the outlook for schools never “looked more bleak, but perhaps never has the outlook looked more promising given the energetic commitment that your administration has to our schools. We need you more than ever.”

Cardinal O’Malley continued the line of questioning related to schools, urging the president to support tuition assistance for families to enable them to send their children to Catholic schools.

“We need it now,” he said. “It has to be done in a quick way that helps them to pay tuition.”