October 7, 2011 – The Future of Catholic Education

It is during these times when one of my favorite teams is in the playoffs that I start to question my priorities.  When I woke up this morning, the first thought that entered my head was that somehow, someway, I have to squeeze in a little time to put out the blog before 7:30 this evening when the Cardinal game comes on, because at that point everything else will be shut down except the TV.  We have to admit, though, it has been an exciting series, with good pitching, great defense, timely hitting, squirrels, etc.  Hopefully this time next week my priorities will still be out of whack as the Cardinals continue their improbable playoff run.

 As my regular readers know, besides my love of the Cardinals I also love to surf around the internet and find what at least I think are interesting things.  I came across an article that was published in the Wall Street Journal last week written by Richard Riordan, who formerly was the mayor of Los Angeles and is also the founding president of the Los Angeles Catholic Education Foundation.  This is a foundation that provides tuition assistance to low income families who wish to send their children to Catholic schools.  This foundation has announced a campaign to raise $100 million in hopes of providing aid to all families who qualify for assistance.  If you would like to read the entire article, here is the link for you, though I will hit on a few of the main points.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204138204576600660103642184.html?KEYWORDS=catholic

The article points out a report from Loyola Marymount University which states that the number of Catholic schools nationwide continues to dwindle.  Forty years ago the U.S. had over 13,000 Catholic schools with 5.5 million students.  Now there are only 6,900 Catholic schools with 2 million students.  Why has this occurred?  It certainly is not because of lack of a quality education.  98% of students who graduate from Catholic grade schools go on to graduate high school, and a vast majority of these students move on to college.  In contrast, in the Los Angeles area only 30% of students who graduated from urban public schools went on to finish high school.

The article goes on to explain why he feels there is such a discrepancy, despite the fact that Catholic schools generally are running on tighter budgets than public schools or charter schools.  Catholic schools focus on instilling beliefs, values and standards.  They also provide a safe learning environment, structure and a faith-based education.  There is a sense of community and a set of goals that every child is expected to achieve.

Thinking back on my 12 years in Catholic schools and what I observe now, I can see the same things happening.  I see the students from our school moving on to achieve success in high school and beyond.  I see faith-based values being instilled in our kids.  I see the sense of community not just in each grade, but among the grades.  Our school slogan, “A Family of Families”, certainly rings true.  So why during this process of Pastoral Planning and Re-Structuring is the school such a focal point, and why has the diocesan Office of Education determined the future viability of our school to be “questionable”?  Of course the issue comes down to funding and our ability to continue to support not only the school but the other areas of ministry that a viable parish should be able to offer.

As I said last week, ideally the parish should not be subsidizing more than 40% of its income to the school.  It is felt that if the percentage is higher than this, other areas that make up a parish would suffer.  Currently this figure is about 49%, which is an improvement from past years, thanks to a bump in tuition, increased fund raising efforts, and increased enrollment.  I share this with you again not to question our ability to maintain our school and keep it open, but to inform you why we were put into a “questionable” category.  It is not a question of quality of education, or performance of students, or the dedication of parents, grandparents, staff and volunteers.  The question is whether in the long-term we can continue to find sources of funding as costs continue to rise, and can we find ways to support those families, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are on the lower income level yet want their children to receive the obvious benefits of a Catholic education.

As the article states, we have an obligation to the next generation to see that they have the opportunity to receive a quality education.  This will require an investment on our part.  We need to remember the school in our wills, bequests and memorials.  We need to persuade our representatives to give families freedom of choice when it comes to educating their children.  We need to continue to find ways to keep our enrollment at an acceptable level – not only welcoming our own parishioners, but those of other faiths and those from other communities.  I am not disparaging the efforts of our public schools and other parochial schools, but I know what I gained from a Catholic education, and how it helped to shape what I have become (please, no fat jokes – ha ha), and I want future generations to be afforded the same opportunity.  With everyone’s efforts, we will achieve this goal.

A couple of personal notes before I close.  First of all, I ask for your prayers for the 2 gentleman who suffered serious burn injuries at the Gilster – Mary Lee Pasta Plant in Steeleville.  I do not know the gentlemen personally, but working for the same company, I feel a sense of closeness to them.  Unfortunately, even with safety procedures in place, accidents can and will happen.  Pray for their quick recovery and for their families.

Finally, I feel it is my duty that when I witness a true miracle, I must bring it to light.  Yesterday I had to go to the driver’s license bureau to get my license renewed.  Usually 2 things are a given in this venture – that you will have to wait, and wait, and wait, and that you will probably have to deal with someone who is, well, how to put this delicately, is less than cooperative.  However, yesterday I was helped right away, just had to answer a few simple questions, take the eye test, get the picture taken, and within a minute or 2 I had my new card and I was out the door!  The whole thing took like 5 minutes.  So kudos to the employees at the license bureau for making my day.  May your next experience at the license bureau be as pleasant as mine.

Continue to enjoy our beautiful fall.  Peace.

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