By KAITLYNN WILLIAMS
Two busloads of Diocese of Tucson Catholic school students headed to Phoenix on Jan. 29 to join about 1,000 of their peers from across Arizona at the State Capitol to show their support for school choice.
The rally, sponsored by Catholic Education Arizona, took place as part of the annual week-long celebration of Catholic Schools Week. The students joined their diocesan bishops, including Tucson’s Bishop Gerald Kicanas, as well as priests, religious, individual donors and corporate donors in petitioning the legislature to continue with state funding for Catholic education through Arizona tax credits.
According to the Catholic Tuition Support Organization’s website, “Arizona’s private school tax credits allow taxpayers to contribute up to $2,062 if filing jointly or up to $1,031 if filing singly to the CTSO.” This benefits Arizona’s 21,000 Catholic school students, as it allows “taxpayers to direct all or a portion of their tax dollars, and at the same time, provide tuition assistance for students at no cost to themselves.”
This tax credit allows many students the opportunity to excel in a community which places value on academics, community and faith.
“Our State of Arizona is among the best states for providing such opportunities to parents in the education of their children,” Bishop Kicanas said in a statement on his Facebook page.
Included in the rally’s audience of legislators were Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin, who listened as various students, including some from Tucson and Nogales, shared testimonies about the impact Catholic education has had on their lives.
The rally also featured various other speakers, including Sister Rosa Maria Ruiz, C.F.M.M., who was honored for her 17 years as superintendent of the Diocese of Tucson and 53 years in the Diocese. Bishop Kicanas presented her with flowers and thanked her for longstanding dedication to the Catholic school students in Tucson.
Between speeches, cheerleaders from various schools led cheers about Catholic education, while students from St. John the Evangelist School in Tucson shared their talents by performing with their mariachi band for the crowd.
For the Catholic school students, it was not only a day of joining their classmates in showing support for something which so directly affects them, but it was also a way to learn about the lawmaking process and being an involved citizen. Some students welcomed the opportunity to see this firsthand before the rally, when they were led on tours of the Capitol, including the office of Gov. Jan Brewer.
By the end of the day, students surely felt well-accomplished in making their voices heard and both donors and lawmakers surely felt inspired after seeing the physical reality of the impact Catholic education has on young people.
“It was exciting for me to witness our Catholic Schools students’ enthusiasm echoing throughout the Arizona State Capitol,” said Gracie Quiroz, Executive Director of the Arizona CTSO, “Rally organizers took the opportunity during Catholic Schools Week and National School Choice Week for our Catholic school students to show their appreciation to state legislators for providing them with academic choices that will help prepare many of them as our future leaders. I am proud to be able to represent Catholic education.”
Kaitlynn Williams is a student at St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson.