August 25, 2012 – Catholic Education: Value Beyond Belief

Well even though we still have a week left to go in the month of August and we are pretty much still in “summer mode”, school has already been in session for over a week.  This, plus a couple of articles that I saw during the week have led me to talk about our Catholic schools and the value to our nation.  I don’t think anyone can argue that Catholic schools provide a unique, stimulating learning environment for our children.  The statistics bear this out.  For example, according to the National Catholic Education Association, for the year 2010-2011 it was estimated that 99% of Catholic high school students graduated, and that 84% went on to post-secondary education.  This is compared to 44.1% of public school students.  And it is not only Catholics that realize the benefits attained from a Catholic education.  In the same year, 15.4% of the enrollment in Catholic schools was non-Catholic students.  In inner city areas, this percentage jumped to 42%.  So there is clearly value in a Catholic education.

The question that has been brought up in the last couple of weeks is at what cost does a Catholic education come.  There is certainly a large sacrifice that many families have to make financially in order to send their children to a Catholic school.  In the year 2010-2011 once again, the average tuition for a student in a parish grade school was $3,673.  The mean freshman tuition in a Catholic high school was $8,182.  For our students in this parish, the numbers are somewhat lower, but still there is a definite sacrifice that must be made.  The tuition of course does not cover the total cost to educate each student, which is made up through parish subsidies, fund-raisers, endowments, etc.  Parents of course make the largest sacrifice, but it really takes the efforts of many more people to keep a Catholic school operational.

I haven’t really said anything that we as members of a parish don’t already know.  I mention all of this because of an article that recently appeared in The Economist.  It is a lengthy article that talks about the current financial state of the Catholic Church.  Much of the focus is on how the church’s finances have been affected by the clergy abuse scandal.  There is nothing really earth-shattering in the article.  If you have trouble sleeping some evening, it would probably good to read to get you drowsy.  Here is the link to it:

www.economist.com/node/21560536

The part of the article that brought a swift response from the USCCB is that local and federal governments are “bankrolling” Catholic schools in order to keep them afloat.  There is really no basis for this statement.  Yes, it is true that in our district for example, our students are provided transportation, and also can take advantage of some of the programs offered at the public school such as band.  It is also true that Catholic families pay taxes like everyone else, and that the government has an obligation to educate youth.  There is no money provided to Catholic schools to pay for salaries, building expenses, technology, books, etc.  Catholic schools are essentially self-sufficient.  In fact, in direct contrast to the spirit of the article in the Economist, because Catholic schools house about 2 million students each year, the government is spared about $23 billion dollars in additional expenditures.  So it would seem the argument could be made that it is Catholic schools who are “bankrolling” the government, not vice-versa.

Does the government have an obligation to subsidize Catholic schools?  Should there be a “voucher” program in order to give families a choice to send their children to a private school if they wish without dealing with the issue of the large financial obligation?  These are questions that can be argued another day.  What is clear is that Catholic schools provide a unique educational opportunity, but that this opportunity comes with a heavy price financially and in terms of time spent at fund-raisers, etc.  In order for Catholic schools to remain self-sufficient, there may have to be changes in how schools are operated.  This may mean additional closures and mergers of schools.  This may mean changes in how schools are operated and managed.

This past week in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the announcement was made that the management of its high schools and special-education school were going to be turned over to a private foundation called the “Faith in the Future” foundation.  This creates the first independently run Catholic school system in the country.  Though the Archdiocese will still own the buildings and other assets, the foundation will be responsible for development and enrollment strategies, as well as new educational initiatives.  It will also be responsible for making up the operational deficit that Philadelphia’s schools have been running for years.  I do not anticipate that this sort of arrangement will become widespread, at least in the near future.  However, I’m sure that many dioceses, particularly the larger ones, will be watching to see how this plays out over the next few years, and if it is successful, we may see more of a shift to this type of school management.  In the meantime, I thank all of you who sacrifice in any way to keep our school operational and a wonderful place to grow and learn.

I also want to throw out kudos to Fr. Gene and our high school students.  Recently some of our high school youth approached Father with the idea of once again trying to form a youth ministry group in our parish.  As you know, there have been many things that have been tried in the past, which unfortunately have died out after a time.  However, this go around appears hopeful as it was the kids who approached us to form something.  Fr. Gene has generously taken on the role as the “organizer” for the time being, and we pray that this can grow into a vibrant ministry in our parish.

I’m still on a high from last night’s Cardinal victory.  Let’s keep it rolling!  Have a great week!  Peace.

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One Response to “August 25, 2012 – Catholic Education: Value Beyond Belief”

  1. Thomas Says:

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this post and the rest of the site is
    very good.

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