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Thursday April 24, 2008
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Ladies and gentlemen, if I may, the panel is going to begin, and I would like to introduce the Honorable Margaret Spellings. (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Okay. You all keep eating. Do so as quietly as possible. We education types are used to people talking and making noise in the lunchroom, so we are going to use our time wisely and well and take this opportunity to share some insights with three people I know well, all friends. And not only do they talk the talk as they say, but they walk the walk, and I've seen them do it.
Today with us are Secretary Roy Bernardi from Housing and Urban Development. And he is the former mayor of Syracuse, a former Catholic school student. And we'll be hearing from him. Likewise my friend, the former mayor of Indianapolis, Steve Goldsmith, who is quite a social entrepreneur, to quote the President from this morning, and my very good friend, Nancy Grasmick, who is the chief state school officer in Maryland, not far from here. And she is an active and vigorous education reformer on all fronts.
We all know why we're here, and the President talked this morning about our quest, our shared goal and dream of finding a high quality education for every single student wherever that might be. And what I'm -- what we're here to talk about today to talk about are some very excellent examples of how that is taking place really all around the country.
And I'm going to start with asking my friend, Roy Bernardi, who, as I said, is from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Actually we have done some partnerships with them on some of these things. He worked closely with faith-based schools when he was mayor of Syracuse and did some interesting things, and he's going to tell his story. And then we'll go to Steve.
ACTING SECRETARY BERNARDI: Thank you, Secretary Spellings.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here.
Madame Secretary, thank you for the good work that you do, working with principals and superintendents and teachers throughout the country to provide a quality education for every child. I also want to thank President Bush for putting this together, elevating support for the inner city children and faith-based schools in our nation. Also for the members of the panel, my fellow mayor, Stephen Goldsmith from Indianapolis, and Superintendent Nancy Grasmick from Maryland.
I've seen this issue from many perspectives. I'm a product of parochial school, a K through 12 in Syracuse, New York. I was a public school high school teacher for four years, a guidance counselor in a public high school for three years. I was also mayor of the City of Syracuse, as the Secretary indicated. And now I'm the Acting Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
I want to make one thinking very, very clear. If anyone thinks that the health of our cities is not directly related to our parochial schools, they're very sadly mistaken. Now, the public schools do the heavy lifting, and I'm sure Nancy will give you those numbers in Maryland. Ninety percent of all K through 12 students are educated in the public school system, but the parochial schools obviously play a very critical role.
How do they play that critical role? First by offering quality education, and that's just not in the early grades. In high school, parochial schools, 98 percent of the students graduate and 97 percent go on to higher education.
Secondly, the parochial schools offer opportunity. They reach millions of underprivileged children, especially in the inner cities, and the overwhelming majority of those children are not Catholic, but they're provided with a quality education, quality education at a lower cost. And I've always said I think the children, the kids in the cities, deserve the same opportunity as the children in suburbs.
And finally, these schools offer structure. And if you've attended parochial school, you'll know what I mean by that structure. The Franciscans are the ones that taught me. And what I didn't get at home I got there, not only in education, but in socialization and in discipline. But that tough love is a great antidote to life out on the streets. As a former mayor, I can tell you with gangs and children with nothing to do, idle time -- that can be quite a problem.
Now, at HUD we try make sure that public housing -- that it doesn't fall into disrepair. It has to be the same way with our parochial schools. These schools today, as this conference is pointing out, need our help. Catholic school enrollment is down by over five million -- from five million in 1960 to about 2.3 million now. In 1998 the diocese in the city of Syracuse ran 49 schools. Today that's down to 29, and that's affected approximately 5,700 youngsters.
So how do we get it back? How do we give back? First you work together as partners. Any mayor will tell you that it's federal. It's state. It's local. It's not-for-profits. It's any group or organization that resides within your jurisdiction. I was always fond of telling anyone who would listen that if government had to do it alone, it would never get it done. It's the not-for-profit and the faith-based organizations that really, really make this country what it is.
When I was a mayor, I worked with a Father Joseph Champlin, who is now deceased. He created an endowment fund called the Guardian Angel Society for Cathedral School. They were K through 6 right in the heart of the city of Syracuse, predominantly African-American. We engaged the entire community. He came to me and asked for help. He said, "We're going to need the resources." And obviously, the government can't give resources directly, but I'll talk to you a bit later about what you can do with a faith-based organization.
What we did is we contacted entrepreneurs. We contacted business people. We were able to create this foundation for resources. These children at Christmastime went to Radio City Music Hall to a show. We provided them with the opportunity for books, computers. And the school was very, very successful. How do I know that? Because there's two of those graduates at the University of Georgetown right now, and these are kids that would not have the opportunity, if it had not been for Cathedral Academy.
In the fall of each year as mayor, we would hold a barbecue for the city of Syracuse, north, south, east, and west. And we would have contributors. We would have companies that would provide the hot dogs or a hamburger or a soda. There was also a company that would provide a backpack for every child. So these were not just the private schools, the parochial schools, but public schools as well. So the children going back would have the necessary tools they need to get started.
So a strong community is a community that has variety. It has choice. You know, just as the housing crisis we now have in our country, you know, you look at neighborhoods and you see a foreclosure. We don't want an empty school either, because a street and a neighborhood is all-encompassing, and the parochial school is an anchor of that neighborhood, always has been.
And I can recall my days as a student, but for the sake of time I won't get into that right now, but I just want to say that we look for innovative ideas. Some people would tell you there are no new ideas. Perhaps there's not, but there's involvement. And the President's involved. The Secretary's involved. You're all involved, so we can look for ways in which we can make sure that the resources are there so that these children, especially inner city youngsters, have the same opportunity. They have the same work. They have the same desires, the same goals and will achieve the same success. If we can provide resources to keep these schools open, there will be even more of them. Thank you. (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Thank you, Roy.
Next up Steve Goldsmith who, in addition to being the former mayor of Indianapolis, is the chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service and lots success over there.
I have known Steve for a while, and I would just say that in Texas, we would say Steve was country before country was cool. That means he has been talking about these things and not only talking about them, but doing them for literally decades.
And, Steve, why don't you tell us about some of that, that history.
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: Madame Secretary, I appreciate the attention that you and the President have focused on this important issue. And I really liked the remarks.
I saw someone from one of the foundations as I walked in. And it reminds me of kind of one of the more embarrassing moments of my life where I had this chance for this personal conversation with Milton Friedman, and I was talking about public schools. And he said, "No, you're talking about government schools. Public schools educate the public. Government schools are schools run by the government, right?"
So that was an important moment in my education because from that point on I viewed my role as mayor as contributing to the public education opportunities of my citizens and the children in my city. And from that perspective then in our city, the range of religious schools and predominantly the catholic schools in the inner city were the stabilizing force for our neighborhoods, right? They provided an alternative, as the Secretary said, where parents could send their children, because as any mayor knows from one of the cities that's stressed, the path to the middle class is a path to the suburbs, right?
People who grow up in the cities and have children view their options for schooling to move from the city. So the Catholic schools and the other religious schools were holding our communities together. In that regard, I haven't done an empirical evaluation, but my guess is I'm the only Jewish mayor to chair an archdiocese fundraising drive, right? It's fair bet without any research, right? (Applause)
And I took the state of the city address to a Roman Catholic school. And what I was trying to do is say these are hard-pressed neighborhoods, and these inner city religious schools are always in financial difficulty. And, in fact, the more they fulfill their social and moral initiative, the more money they lose, right? So it's a community responsibility that should be led by the secular leaders of city, not just the religious leaders.
We'll get into the questions and answers about what's the appropriate role for government and how to make a difference, but just an introductory remark. I think that one of the most important things we have to do, in part, started by the President's comments this morning is to make the case that these are community issues to save these schools because saving these schools will save the children, as the Secretary mentioned. Thank you very much. (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Thank you, Steve.
Our final panelist is Maryland's superintendant Nancy Grasmick, my friend and colleague. Nancy has had an amazing career in education, started as a special education teacher and is revered and maybe a little feared, which I love that, in education circles in the entire community in Maryland. She is an awesome reformer. There is no tool that will go unused in Nancy's toolkit.
And I appreciate your great work so, Nancy, tell us about the kinds of things you've done in Maryland to meet the needs of those communities.
DR. GRASMICK: Well, thank you, Secretary Spellings, and this is a mutual admiration society. We're just simply lucky in this country to have Margaret Spellings. I know you agree with me. (Applause)
DR. GRASMICK: But today it's important to tell the unvarnished truth, and so in Maryland there is absolutely no appetite for vouchers or anything that even approximates a voucher. And so as I thought about that and the political situation, I decided there were ways in which we could work around this and attempt to help faith-based schools and nonpublic schools overall in terms benefits to our children. And all of us gathered here today care about every child getting a high quality public and private education.
And so in 1998 I decided to create a nonpublic work group where we invited not only the superintendents and representatives from our school systems, but also from our nonpublic schools. The group has been chaired by -- co-chaired by two people, one from the public school sector and one from the nonpublic school sector. And in a moment I'll tell you about the things they've tackled, but I have to say that the success of this has been very dependent on a few people, one the incredible leadership of the superintendent of the Catholic schools, Dr. Ronald Valenti, who's here with us today. (Applause)
DR. GRASMICK: He is my friend and colleague. And often as I visit Catholic schools within the city, people say, "Why are you two so friendly?" Or we're on a radio show together, etc. But we are constantly collaborating. And then we have a whole series of nonpublic special education schools that serve many of our city children. And so Dorie Flynn who's with us representing those nonpublic special education schools is another fabulous partner for us. So children are getting, in a timely way, the intense services they need.
And so as we looked at the issues, a huge issue was the idea that our nonpublic schools, particularly in the urban areas dealing with children who are economically disadvantaged, needed some textbook dollars that could also be used for technology. And with the leadership, particularly of Dr. Valenti and those from the Jewish community coming together, we were able to get almost $4 million a year to provide for those kinds of opportunities for our children in our nonpublic schools.
We also know that it is a chronic problem, and particularly in the urban areas because the public schools are very preoccupied with chronically underperforming schools, to ensure that dollars that are directed from the U.S. Department of Education are getting to our faith-based schools in a timely and appropriate manner. And so that is another area that we're tackling through this nonpublic work group. And just recently Dr. Valenti invited me to make a presentation to the mid-Atlantic group for the Catholic schools in terms of setting up a model that could be replicated literally throughout the country in terms of how we can ensure that every dollar that's deserved goes to the faith-based schools.
We also have a very exciting record in Maryland for our supplemental educational services, and I think the national percentage is about 19 percent participation. We have 69 to 70 percent participation, and we are very careful in terms of the applications and ensuring that our faith-based providers have an opportunity to provide those services for our public school students. And so that's another exciting development.
And the other thing that has been very important, particularly in our Jewish community, given some of the cultural and religious aspects that have to be considered are to provide parental choice services within those schools, and so we are doing that.
In addition, and finally I'll conclude with this, we are extremely interested in early identification and our infants and toddlers program, etc. and so working with all of the nonpublic sectors to ensure those children are identified early and getting the intervention and services required. So it's been a very exciting time to work this nonpublic work group in a state which feels -- where there is a political inhibition to having any kind of direct contribution of dollars other than these nonpublic textbook and technology dollars. Thank you. (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: That is such a really great point and, I think, a jumping off point to some of our discussions. I want to mention one thing about supplemental services that you all might not be aware of. Just this week a couple days ago, in Detroit in fact, I announced some new regulations from the Department of Education which will be coming into final effect before year-end. And as those of you who have thought about providing supplemental services in your communities, you know that there are some significant disincentives in the public schools to use those dollars in those ways.
So we're going to make that more attractive to the public school community by saying, "You can roll it over for one year, but if you don't spend the money on those kids," because not everybody has a 70 percent takeup rate, "then those moneys come back to the U.S. treasury." (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: So I think that will cause some great things to occur out there, and your phones might be ringing a little more vigorously in light of that.
All right, Steve, let's start with you. You all -- since you've been doing this a long time, I know there are some things you've learned along the way. What do you with you'd known? How do you bring communities together around lofty goals in places that might have some of the resistance that Nancy has talked about?
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: Well, I think unfortunately, most places have some resistance to the right. Let me just talk for a second about specific tools. So it seems the beginning point is a high-level key recognition that the mission of the religious school is critical to the future of the city, right? That everybody is in this. It's not just Catholic, Jewish, or particular Christian or Evangelical schools important to the cities.
Second then, if you view your role as educating children, then as Nancy suggested, there's a range of tools that are available. We were proud to have started an effort where we used the city's tax-exempt debt issuance authority to finance the remodeling and opening of new school. There are financial advisors I know that provide advice to the Catholic schools without complicated financial ledgers that can actually turn the schools, which are embedded assets, into a way to support the children, and the city can play a way.
If you've reached that point where you ought to say -- and many larger cities are like this -- transportation should be funded for children. Transportation shouldn't be just to a public school, right? Special classes could be offered in the public schools for children who are in the religious schools, because these are services, public education services for those children -- or textbooks. And you can fill in -- you can fill in that.
And once you reach the understanding and let me just diverge. You all know this, but I doubt that many of our citizens know it, that religious schools actually subsidize the public schools, right, because you're educating a child who otherwise would have to be educated with the full cost of the public. So this is not a transfer of resources from taxpayers to religious schools. It's a way to help the religious schools continue their subsidies. (Applause)
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: And a last comment, I mean there are some other structures, and Nancy is heroic in her work, but if you don't have her in all 50 states, hypothetically, there are other structures. The Pennsylvania corporate tax credit program is a very good one. It allows corporations to make contributions that are tax-deductible that will help fund the children. So there's a lot of things that can be done, but I think the point is that once the civil city leaders -- oh, I see faces in the audience. This is my last comment.
I also was proud to be on the board of our private voucher program, the Charitable Choice Program, and I thought that also -- I was totally supportive of our public schools. The point is not to erode the public schools. It is to provide competitive alternative choices for parents who wanted those. And so whether we raised the voucher money, whether we diverted the transportation dollars, if you will, or whether we did financing for the religious schools, all of those made for more vibrant communities which helped educate our children better. Thank you.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Nancy, you talked a little about the working group. What are the kinds of conditions that had to be in place to make sure that could be successful? I saw a lot of heads nodding, saying, "Hey, that sounds like something we could do." What do you need to make sure happens so that that thing can work?
DR. GRASMICK: Well, I really think you have to forge a relationship. It won't work if there are, you know, these stovepipe attitudes and polarization. And so I think it was born of the relationship that Dr. Valenti and I have and have had for so many years and the idea that our nonpublic special education schools -- we certainly invite into it our independent schools, but there had to be a working relationship.
And I have to say this. It's not a compliment to me, but people are simply amazed that in Maryland every year all of the nonpublic entities have a huge breakfast for me because of the collaboration, and we bring up issues that we're committed to resolving together. And there is a huge level of respect, and so I think that has to be a fundamental issue.
It's not just at the work group but that it follows through in terms of the daily work of the individuals. I think there have to be certain targets. And certainly we look at all of the state laws, all of the local laws, etc. and the interpretation of those and how those laws can benefit our nonpublic schools, not again, as you suggested, to erode in any way the public schools, but how those laws can be interpreted fairly to not deprive the nonpublic schools of opportunities. And I think the idea of our coming together around the idea of the nonpublic textbook technology moneys and my sitting there every year in the general assembly when they're deliberating as to whether or not these dollars should continue.
And we are very skillful in not giving the message that we're not supportive to public schools but also that we administer those funds. We are excited about the testimony and what's happening relative to those funds, so we administer every dollar of those funds in our department. We identify specific people who work with the schools. We develop the application for it, etc. so that there's this constant engagement, which I think is so exciting.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: You know, you were talking about kind of a broad agenda from technology and textbooks to early childhood. How did your group come together on particular priorities at a given time?
DR. GRASMICK: Well, a lot of it has to do with issues that they're grappling with at any particular time. One of the big issues is, you know, our nonpublic special education schools and the idea of our whole continuum from infants and toddlers through high school and how do we identify these children who may be in faith-based schools or in child care settings etc. that will go into faith-based schools? So that they will bring the topics to the chairs, to the group, and there's agreement in terms of what we're pursuing. And I think it is born of the idea: What are the most current issues that have to be dealt with?
Dr. Valenti brought to my attention the idea that the title dollars were not necessarily going to nonpublic schools in an effective and fair manner. We have to grapple with that. We've worked together to set up a model and to pursue that model across the state.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: I'd like to know more about that. Thank you, Nancy. Well said.
Roy, tell us about -- obviously the mayor is often the focal point of helping educate the public, the big bully pulpit. You talked about some of the closings of schools you had in Syracuse. How can a mayor engage and have a community better understand what's at stake with our faith-based schools, and what are things that mayors can do to guard against those closures?
ACTING SECRETARY BERNARDI: Well, first and foremost is to understand the problem before it happens. Probably most of you read last Sunday's Washington Post. In Petersburg, Virginia, St. Joseph's Catholic School was going to close, and the dioceses there gave them, I think, a week to raise a million dollars. Well, the good news is that as of this Monday they raised a million dollars to remain open. (Applause)
ACTING SECRETARY BERNARDI: And how that happens is how a mayor will tackle the problem regardless of where you are in this country is that you have to engage everyone. Information is power. The fact of the matter is there are parochial schools that have closed in this country, and they didn't know that until the last possible moment. And I think everyone needs an opportunity to bring the shakers and movers in the community together to see if you can save those schools.
I also want to add here the events -- you talk about how do you access dollars, and that's the name of the game regardless of where you are. Well, the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2004, our faith-based office, we held around the country grant-writing training programs. Over 30,000 individuals participated. In 2008 we plan this year to have 50 locations for those grant-writing programs. And I bring this up even though it wasn't a question is that make sure that you in your local communities that you access that grant-writing training program, because it's how you put that application together.
And we don't preclude religious organizations. Obviously, they should not be precluded. The fact of the matter remains on the receiving of the grant, as long as it's not used for a specific religious purpose, you can apply. So I would ask everyone in this room to make sure that you access not just the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but faith-based offices that the President has put throughout the federal government so that you can access those funds, the community development block grant moneys and the home moneys. There's resources that are there, so I would ask you to take advantage of them.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: All right. It's time for your questions while you are coming to the microphone, let me ask Steve real quickly as mayor.
You know, obviously, engaging the community and making the case that we ought to care about all schools is something that I think obviously mayors -- Secretary, former mayor, you did it.
Steve, do you want to talk a little about that while our questioners are coming forward?
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: Well, I think putting together a high-level effort with representatives throughout the community is helpful. I mean we had a terrific archbishop. We had some very strong Christian school leaders. And we had, I think, probably most importantly neighborhood leaders who were outspoken that this school is stabilizing our neighborhood, right? And so the combination then. And I was mayor long enough we had lot of school superintendents kind of come and go but most of them -- probably some would say that -- but most of them were supportive of the effort, because they knew that they wanted to hold children and families live in the city.
So if I think you have high-level leadership, grass-roots support, and you make the case -- the financial information as well as the performance information needs to be out there -- that is the groundwork around which dollars can be moved and raised and new laws passed.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Okay. Your turn. Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Madame Secretary, Joe McTighe from CAPE, the Council for American Private Education. First of all, it's a wonderful forum, and it's been focusing the spotlight on an absolutely critical issue, and we're very grateful for that, and we appreciate that. But one of the recurring themes today has been that at a time when the country desperately needs successful inner city schools, it makes no sense whatsoever to stand by and watch schools that have a track record of success close down in record numbers.
But if we're going to address that issue at the policy levels -- and I'm talking specifically at the federal level now -- it's going to take a serious bipartisan effort, I think, similar to what took place when "No Child Left Behind" was initially enacted and also similar to what's going on right now in terms of addressing the housing crisis. Is there a way that the administration can facilitate a dialog at the highest levels in Congress, bipartisan dialog to address this particular crisis?
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Well, I'll start. I'm just going to comment. I would say that in a Presidential election year, that's a hard time to do just candidly. But I would also say that I do think, when we look at the compelling data, our shared commitment to leave no child behind, you know, and the way that the President has proposed and formulated this $300 million effort that says, you know, are we for real about "No Child Left Behind" or not? Because we've given schools every possible opportunity to improve. Now what?
And so I think the moral imperative is there. I think politically, frankly, this has to be motivated -- all politics is local, as we all know -- back home around the needs of particular regions and communities. Only then will, you know, the Nancy Grasmicks of the world have the kind of climate to think outside those usual structures.
I will tell you that I think data and accountability are our greatest friends in this effort. That's why there's such fierce opposition, you know, to put that elephant back in the closet, to stop peeling the onion, to make everybody feel that all is well. So stay strong for data and motivate politics back home I think is what I would do.
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: You know the answer to this. I'm just a local guy. So I would say, though, that your earlier comment about the SES program focuses on the fact that, you know, the President's faith-based initiative ended a significant amount of regulatory discrimination against faith-based organizations. And that concept -- and that is what this conference is supposed to do -- but that concept, applied to existing revenue streams, would lead to substantial results.
And I agree with you, Madame Secretary, that's probably the best you would accomplish in an election year.
But that's not -- as the HUD program suggests, that's not an insignificant amount of money, and it would make a little bit of a difference in at least kind of bridging and reducing some of the closures until we get to a bolder point.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: The other thing is, I think, as we talked about Pennsylvania and other places with tax credit policies. You know, sometimes those are less incendiary politically than some of the other things that we've talked about, so I think, you know, don't neglect your state legislature. You know, funding for education is 9 cents from the federal government and 91 cents from state and local government. And it's the old "He who has the gold makes the rules" sort of philosophy. And so state legislatures obviously -- the President talked a little bit about Blaine Amendments and all of that, but it certainly shouldn't be overlooked.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Jim Cultrara from the New York State Catholic Conference. I think many of us are surprised but intrigued that as former mayors, you've made the point that the strength of our schools has an effect on the economic and social strength of cities. And obviously there are a number of -- a small number of mayors, current mayors in the country, who have come out in support of school choice.
Do you think it's politically possible to get the mayors nationwide as a group, like the conference of mayors in New York which we've tried to approach, to get them to come out in support of school choice, to get away from this notion that it's us versus them, private schools versus public schools, and talk about it in a broader sense as you've done on the social and economic strength of cities?
ACTING SECRETARY BERNARDI: You're absolutely correct. As a former president of the New York State Conference of Mayors -- but not just New York State, any state. If they would take folks like yourself, conferences like this -- someone mentioned here the mortgage crisis. Why are they dealing with the mortgage crisis? Because it's a crisis. Well, I think we have a crisis right here in front of us with the closure of parochial schools and the opportunity for youngsters in the inner city to have that quality education.
So reach out and talk to the various groups and organizations, the National League of Cities, Conference of Mayors, your local representatives, the federal representatives. You know, it's not going to happen unless the emphasis is put on it, but I can't stress importantly enough what I talked about, accessing the programs that we have now.
There's resources that are out there, and those resources should not be limited just to the folks that have had access to those over the years. Faith-based organizations are participating more and more, but you need to do even more of that. Apply for those resources. Use those resources to help the schools that we're talking about.
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: I would just add that a little of it depends on what you mean by the word "choice," right? So I think of the word "choice" means voucher, the answer to your question is no. We might find a mayor in Milwaukee ten years ago who favored it or in DC with Tony Williams, but very unusual. I think, though, the frame needs to be remade, though. I mean these schools in our city, which is not atypical, the Catholic schools were 85 percent inner city non-Catholics. This was a social mission and moral mission on the part of the church, and they were educating students in our community.
And I think the problem becomes that suburban parents have choices, and they don't see the faces of the kids in the urban areas. And the urban parents don't have much power, and they're unable to kind of break through kind of entrenched interests.
So it seems to me that if the framework changes, and it's community stabilization, and it's holding a city together by -- let me interrupt my thought. Secretary Spellings knows better than anybody else the horrible dropout rates of inner city schools on the public school side, right? So I think this can easily be reshaped to be around a mission of a future opportunities for children, community development, helping schools educate all faiths. And I think if you did it that way, and wanted to advocate Catholic or Jewish or Christian schools as an alternative, you could get a lot of mayors to say yes. But if they hear the word "choice" and they translate to it vouchers, I think the answer is no.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Mary Ellen Russell from the Maryland Catholic Conference. One thought I've been having all morning that I don't think we've talked a lot about is the issue of benefits for teachers. We saw an extraordinary chart this morning that's no secret to the Catholic schools about the shift from what we're calling practically free labor to trying to pay salaries for our teachers, and I think it's a critically important component of the crisis that we're facing now.
And I wondered in your wisdom, at the federal level, at the state level, at the city, any thoughts about how to sort of supplement what our schools can do to help our teachers to include them in programs or ways that would help us to compensate those teachers?
DR. GRASMICK: Mary Ellen and I worked together on some of these initiatives, but I do think health care is so costly today, and joining a larger cohort, getting a reduced rate, things like that where we could come together to look at collective benefits, I think, could be enormously helpful. So Mary Ellen, I make a commitment. I'd be glad to work with you in attempting to look at some of these things, because I think doing it individually is just killing, economically killing these schools.
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: We have -- I would just offer one thought at the moment. Again, of course, you know, the things that we're talking about, you know, pay for performance and vouchers -- these are the holy grails of education, so we've given ourselves a lot to bite off, as you all know. One of the things that the President has supported and the unions have, you know, tried desperately to kill actually is a hundred million dollar program called the Teacher Incentive Fund. He's asked to double this program.
And the notion is: Let's find ways to pay people who do the most challenging work in education and get results. Currently there are about 40 of these models going on around the country that pay for performance that align that hardest work with pay incentives. And we are just beginning to develop this practice. That obviously can be shared and replicated as it's developed, but also we cam, you know, potentially look, as we work to expand those things, that some of those dollars be made available to the challenging work that's going on in our nonpublic schools.
HON. DR. GOLDSMITH: I have no idea what the answer to your question is, but I used to be a politician, so I'm going to answer it anyway. Another way to look at it, in addition to the appropriate comments that were just made, is to say: How can you reduce noncritical teacher costs in order to drive more money to the teachers, right? And that means better financing of the buildings. It means highly specialized classes that only have only a few students, those students ought to be able to enroll in the public school or charter school to secure those services.
So to the extent we can create a menu and kind of disaggregrate those services and move to the public side those that are legitimately public, it would allow more money to be driven into the teacher salaries as being core. It's not directly responding to your question, but perhaps another way to think about, like transportation.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Good afternoon. I'm Dorie Flynn. I'm from Maryland, so mine is more of a comment than a question. But I just wanted to mention that the leadership that we have in Dr. Grasmick has really made the partnership between public and nonpublic work so well.
Something that Dr. Grasmick mentioned in her opening remark was the commitment that she has to provide services to privately placed students. And so she helps coordinate and actually gives grant dollars to provide wraparound support and related services to the Jewish day schools. And we have a large concentration of Jewish day schools in Baltimore County, and I helped coordinate this project that gives speech and language services to kids, to Jewish day school kids to keep them in their faith-based schools. So it's more just about a compliment to you, and we appreciate your support. (Applause)
SECRETARY SPELLINGS: One more question, and then I think we have to all wrap it up so you all can get to your afternoon class. Any other comments? All right. Thank you all for your participation and your good work.
(Applause. The conference reconvened at 1:50 in the auditorium.)