"During the Easter recess, the [Roman] Catholic Bishops mounted a massive lobbying campaign."
From ........ GOVERNING AMERICA- An Insider's Report
From the White House and the Cabinet
By Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
pages 303-308 ................. EDUCATION
Concern about separation of church and state also drove many on those committees to oppose the tuition tax credit proposals for lower schools.
The same day that the President unfolded the administration's Middle Income Student Assistance bill, I asked Attorney General Griffin Bell for his formal opinion on the constitutionality of tax credits for parochial elementary and secondary schools. On March 17, Bell responded to my request and a similar one from Missouri Democratic Senator Thomas Eagleton.
The Attorney General concluded that
"tax programs of the sort contemplated here would be held unconstitutional insofar as they would provide aid at the elementary and secondary school levels. However .... similar aid at the college level would he constitutional ....."
Bell concluded that the tax credit, dollar for dollar up to a certain amount, was in affect a federal payment to a parochial school for whatever purpose the school decided to use it, and so was unconstitutional.
He cited 1973 Supreme Court decisions in Committee For Public Education v. Nyquist and Sloan v. Lemon holding similar New York and Pennsylvania tuition tax credit schemes for elementary and secondary schools unconstitutional.
The [Roman] Catholic bishops attacked the President's and my failure to support the Packwood-Moynihan tax credit.
Virgil Blum, the president of the Independent Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, an organization allied with the U. S. Catholic Conference, condemned the administration's proposal as a
''renunciation of the Presidents' campaign promises to aid pupils who attend parochial schools."
Actually, Carter had limited his commitment to
''finding a constitutionally acceptable method of providing aid to parents of children attending parochial schools."
Among Catholic organizations, only the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities supported our proposal.
Some sophisticated Catholic lobbyists were wary of the tuition tax credit for parochial schools because they feared it would lead to a general reassessment of tax policies affecting religious institutions.
But the [Roman] Catholic bishops, hard-pressed to finance huge parochial school systems in big cities, pressed their case aggressively.
When I argued that Catholic schools would never see any money from a tax credit at elementary and secondary schools because litigation would tie up the funds for years, the bill was changed to mandate an immediate constitutional test in the courts.
While Carter and I refused to hold out false hopes of unconstitutional relief for parochial schools as Nixon had cynically done, we did work to help such schools in every constitutional way.
For the first time, I used HEW's authority to bypass state and local school districts that did not provide a fair share of federal funds to parochial elementary and secondary schools for compensatory education, books, equipment, and other materials and services.
We invoked the law to provide funds to parochial schools in Missouri, Virginia, and Wisconsin and proposed legislative expansion of this authority.
I urged [Roman] Catholic schools to monitor the performance of the states carefully.
I established HEW's first Office of Nonpublic Schools, appointing as director Edward D'Alessio, president of Our Lady of the Elm College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, and former head of the elementary and secondary education division for the U.S.Catholic Conference.
On February 23, the Senate Finance Committee approved, 14 to 1, a bill providing tuition tax credits for elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students. I called the Finance Committee's action
"a devastating blow to public school education in this country that would skew federal benefits toward parochial schools."
During the Easter recess, the [Roman] Catholic Bishops mounted a massive lobbying campaign. When the Congress returned on April 3, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Al Ullman said his committee would act on a tuition tax credit proposal by Cleveland Democrat Charles Vanik.
After a series of sharply contested and close votes, the Ways and Means Committee approved Vanik's proposal for a tuition tax credit up to $250 per student for post-secondary education. But an unusual combination of Southern congressmen opposed to aid for parochial schools and civil rights advocates concerned that tax credits would provide financial assistance for segregated schools, defeated the credit for elementary and secondary schools by a 20 to 16 vote.
The formation of this coalition, and particularly the opposition of the civil rights groups, angered [Roman] Catholic lobbyists. On April 15, the [Roman] Catholic Conference accused me of inciting civil rights opposition and distorting the amount of money the federal government spent to aid pupils in nonpublic elementary and secondary schools.
The House then passed, 237 to 158, a tuition tax credit bill that applied to private elementary and secondary school students, as well as all college students. I called the House vote to provide a credit for parochial schools
"a hollow gesture" that would "only delay the search for constitutional means of assistance to parochial education ...... the parochial schools of this country will never see a dollar of the unconstitutional aid the House voted today because the courts will invalidate it."
Over the recess, I got a sense of how deeply this issue cut with many Americans. While we were fishing together on Cape Cod, Leo Diehl, Speaker O'Neill's closest aide, told me that the mail and pressure on House members to support a tuition tax credit for elementary and secondary schools wasgreater than on any issue since Watergate.
On the third Sunday in August, I sat in Our Lady of Lourdes Church on Main Street in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where my summer home is located. During his sermon, the pastor spoke with hearty approval of the tuition tax credit and asked "all parishioners" - then he noticed me and amended his request to "all parishioners who wish to do so" - to sign petitions to President Carter, available at the back of the church, for a tuition tax credit bill for elementary and secondary schools. As virtually every parishioner signed the petitions, they talked about how the government discriminated against parochial schools.
Carter had his legislative victory without the need to veto the tuition tax credit, even for higher education. He signed the Middle Income Student Assistance Act into law on November 1, 1978. But the scars were not easily healed.
On November 11, the President met with leaders of the National Conference of [Roman] Catholic Bishops, who told him of their
"growing dissatisfaction" with the administration's failure to support tuition tax credits for parents of parochial school children.
On December 6, at my invitation, representatives of the [Roman] Catholic bishops, colleges, and elementary and secondary schools came to HEW to discuss the issue. The group was made up predominantly of clergy with a few laymen.
The atmosphere was icy as I began the meeting in the Secretary's conference room. I asked what we could do to help them in the area of education. Some scoffed at the question. Then the meeting broke into sharp denunciations of Carter, punctuated with words like
"broken promises'' and ''betrayal.''
When I mentioned that Senator Edward Kennedy and Carter were on the same side of this issue, there was a chorus of adverse comment, with one priest noting sarcastically,
''I'd hardly call Kennedy a Catholic legislator with his stand on abortion and his opposition to tuition tax credits.''
Eventually we agreed to try to seek areas of common interest. But they were so worried about the financial plight of big-city parochial schools, they could not see the threat to public education and to the constitutional separation of church and state posed by the tuition tax credit. I was disappointed that they so vigorously disagreed with me, but I could understand their concern.
GOVERNING AMERICA- An Insider's Report
from the White House and the Cabinet
By Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Pub.by Simon and Schuster 1981