One of the greatest responsibilities parents have is to raise their children in the faith. This responsibility includes educating them during their formative years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2221) describes parents’ responsibility in the following way: "The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute. The right and the duty of parents to educate their children are primordial and inalienable."
For many parents, Catholic schools play a key role in helping them fulfill this responsibility, yet the Catholic educational landscape has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Declining religious vocations have led to higher tuition rates, and Catholic schools haven’t been immune to effects from the increasing secularization of society.
What are parents and grandparents to do? It’s important to develop an educational game plan for the whole of your children’s formative years. From Chelsey’s and my experience raising seven children, that includes up to the age of about 22 for most children. By game plan, I don’t mean knowing exactly which school your child will attend or what curriculum will be studied in the years ahead. What I do mean is that you link your educational goals with the financial resources it will take to achieve those goals over the long haul. The educational process is more like a marathon than a sprint, and you need to make sure you not only have the resources to start the race but to finish it as well.
As you develop your game plan, recognize that you have multiple options, including traditional Catholic schools, home schooling, charter schools and public schools. Each of these options comes with pros and cons, and the option that is best for you will largely depend on what the pros and cons look like in your local area.
When it comes to traditional Catholic schools, I have been impressed by the model used by the Diocese of Wichita, Kan., where tithing parishes support Catholic schools and an effort is made to provide parishioners tuition-free schooling from kindergarten through high school. Of course, Wichita is only one diocese. For parents outside of that area, it is reasonable to use a portion of your tithe for the education of your children.
While our decision to home school was largely driven by the fact that there was no Catholic school in our area, there was also the recognition that by spending less on tuition in the early years (when we felt more capable of doing the educating), more resources would be available for Catholic schools, including college, in the later years. While home schooling isn’t an answer for everyone, it is an option to consider.
Another option includes charter schools, some of which cater to home-schooling families and are "faith-friendly." In addition, online resources and curriculum are providing parents with some impressive and inexpensive options. In some communities, local public schools can be a reasonable option, as long as the parents are providing a solid and supportive home environment.
When preparing your budget, make sure to include not only your current education expenses, but also the savings needed to cover future education expenses (primarily college) that won’t be met from income at that time. Of course, college isn’t for everyone, nor is it necessarily the responsibility of the parent to pay 100% of a child’s college expenses. But parents should do their best not to go into debt for their children’s college education, and college students should limit the debt they take on to a reasonable amount. That means a reasonable amount of savings needs to be set aside ahead of time if college is in the plan.
Forming and educating our children requires commitment and sacrifice, but knowing you’ve fulfilled your responsibility well is worth it. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is president of Veritas Financial Ministries
(VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and author of
7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free:
A Catholic Small Group Study (OSV) and Generation Next:
A Catholic Guide to Financial Freedom for Young Adults.