National Catholic Register


Peter Flanigan's Legacy Should Spark a Revolution in School Choice

BY Joan Desmond

| Posted 8/5/13 at 8:00 AM


The death of Peter Flanigan, a great visionary in the school-choice movement, was marked by the Wall Street Journal.  The editorial noted the remarkable commitment of Flanigan, who founded the Student-Sponsor Partners, aprivate voucher program that has provided financial assistance and mentoring for over 5,000 children in New York's inner city who were eager to attend great Catholic schools but didn't have the money to cover the tuition.

Here is what the Journal wrote about Flanigan, who was a personal friend. 

An important pioneer and giant of the school-choice movement died earlier this week. Peter Flanigan, an investment banker and influential aide to President Nixon, was 90. Through the bright autumn of his years, Flanigan turned to education philanthropy. His unstinting focus was on giving poor kids better school options. He sat on the board of the Alliance for School Choice and founded Student Sponsor Partners, a privately funded school-voucher program.

"Living the Call," a 2011 book on the role of laypersons in the Catholic church, describes Flanigan as "one of the great patrons of Catholic education for inner-city children in New York." In an interview with the authors, Michael Novak and William E. Simon Jr., Flanigan said that one reason he thought these kids might be better off in religious schools was the absence of teachers unions, which "are destroying the public school system."

Peter Flanigan's legacy should inspire all of us because he didn't allow the failure of public vouchers to become an excuse for inaction. He helped as  as many kids as he could, and pulled in friends, business assocates and corporations. When he accepted an award in 2004, he explained why he got involved and stayed involved.


I would venture that virtually everyone in this room went to a school, either public or private, chosen by his parents. None of you was trapped in a dysfunctional school. Yet for our inner-city, largely minority, poor children, that is precisely the fate to which we as a society condemn them. They must go to schools that, in all too many cases, they know simply do not educate.

Flanigan said our nation still needed to fulfill the Amermican dream through school choice.

What we have not tried is freedom. Freedom for poor parents to choose the schools that they think are best for their children. And freedom for those schools that are not chosen to close. .

Peter Flanigan will be missed by the children who were in good schools because of his foresight  and commitment. And he'll be missed by the many donors and mentors who received so much from these kids as they got to know them and thus became inspired by their  sense of hope and ethos of hard work -- despite the grave difficulties in their neighborhoods and, in many cases, in their homes, as well.  And while he helped bring the students and the sponsors together, he also collaborated with Catholic educators and the private sector to constantly  strengthen the financial stability and caliber of Catholic education in the archdiocese.

Other private voucher groups have started since Flanigan got involved. We need to keep this movement alive.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York will celebrate his funeral mass today, August 5.