Catholic Core Education
Church Continues to Rely on Basics, Faith and Funding
Religion is built into the entire school day at Our Lady of Guadalupe School (pre-K to eight) in Fremont, Calif., beginning first thing in the morning with prayer.
“If parents didn’t feel their kids came out a better person, the school would not have just celebrated its 50th anniversary,” said Vicki Jones, marketing director for the school.
While educational innovations continue to be sought in the public and private sector, the fundamentals of Catholic education have remained effective — and timeless.
“The basics will never change,” Brother Robert Bimonte, president of the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), told the Register.
“Catholic schools are a vital ministry for transmitting the faith and centering education around the Gospel,” he said.
“We didn’t have all the bells and whistles when I was in school, but the emphasis on a faith-filled education as well as academic excellence remains.”
He pointed out that Catholic education has played a significant role for generations and continues to enrich the lives of individuals, the Church and society today.
By the Numbers
During its annual convention in April, the NCEA released 2014-2015 statistics, showing that last year’s Catholic-school enrollment was just under 2 million students at 6,569 schools in 106 dioceses — a far cry from the Catholic culture during the early 1960s, when Catholic education in the United States peaked, with almost 13,000 schools and more than 5.2 million students.
While the decline has been dramatic over time, there are signs that things are stabilizing. At some schools, there are waiting lists to get in, and some new schools are being built. Overall, there was still a decline last year of 31,000 students nationally, but it was the smallest decline in a decade.
In addition to educating kids around good Catholic values, our country benefits in other ways from Catholic schools. Catholic schools actually save the nation $24 billion annually, since the per-pupil cost for public education is $12,054.
It is the cost of tuition, however, that Brother Robert pointed to as one of the biggest challenges for making Catholic education accessible. Elementary tuition averages $4,000, he said, although actual per-pupil cost is around $6,000. “It has always been the case that expenses are covered by a combination of tuition, parish and fundraising,” he said. “But there are more needs today — including lay faculty who need a fair salary — and parish revenue and fundraising only goes so far.”
In 1989, Wisconsin became the first state to provide tuition relief in the form of state-funded tuition vouchers so that low-income students could attend private schools. Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia provide vouchers.
Kathleen Cepelka, superintendent of Milwaukee’s 114 Catholic schools (99 elementary and 15 secondary), said that vouchers have benefitted Catholic schools in Wisconsin.
“More children can take advantage of Catholic education, and it has enabled our Church to evangelize many non-Catholic students who attend our schools.”
Cepelka explained that, in many voucher schools, a majority of students are not Catholic. “Our schools work hard to maintain a strong Catholic identity and impart the faith in a way that is compelling for these families,” she said. “Every year families are entering into the Catholic Church through this experience.”
The Milwaukee Archdiocese has had a stable Catholic-school enrollment for the past five years, and two new high schools are opening next year.
At Our Lady of Guadalupe School in California, grants from foundations and a requirement that parents volunteer help to supplement traditional funding. Vicki Jones, the marketing director, explained that 35 hours of volunteer time is required from two-parent families and 30 hours for single parents.
Also, tuition is on a sliding scale for families, going from $6,270 for the first student to $2,000 less for the second — and the cost goes down more with each subsequent student.
“In California, it is ironic that it is the Catholic schools that offer the extras that financially strapped public schools no longer provide,” Jones said. “This is due to the generous benefactors who believe in the value of a Catholic education and parents who sacrifice for it.”
She explained that programs like art, band, choir and drama are included in the curriculum.
“We have a huge outreach program so that our kids perform in the community,” Jones said. “It’s part of our religious philosophy. “
John Czaplicki, principal of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Plymouth, Mich., said that the Catholic schools in Michigan share the struggle to keep tuition affordable while managing to provide enough support services for students.
“One new challenge has been the rise in charter schools, which promote a ‘private’ atmosphere at a public-school cost of zero dollars,” he said.
But he explained that a Catholic school is more than just a good education.
“Our bishops and pastors not only value that Catholic education plays an essential role in the New Evangelization,” Czaplicki said, “but they understand the need to ensure that our schools remain vibrant and competitive.”
For Catholic schools to be successful, according to Czaplicki, living the Gospel message must be at the core. Then, in order for schools to survive and thrive, they must focus on recruitment. “If our enrollments drop, our doors close,” he said. “We must take a 21st-century approach to marketing and financial planning. It is a tough market, but we have something incredible to offer parents and their children.”
This benefit extends to the communities and the Church, Czaplicki explained. “Catholic schools share the essential role of spreading the Gospel,” he said. “We build character based on solid moral teachings, using the teachings of Jesus Christ, for students who will someday become the leaders of our society.”
Catholic education is a means for carrying out the mandate of Jesus to bring the light of the Gospel to as many people as possible, according to Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Education. “At this moment, when the Holy Father asks us to turn our attention to the importance of family life,” Archbishop Lucas said, “our Catholic schools are able to form effective partnerships with parents to deepen and strengthen the formation in the Catholic faith that happens first at home.”
Catholic education is education in the fullest sense, he added. “We joyfully acknowledge the true nature of the human person created in the image and likeness of God, whose dignity is God-given. We are able to promote an authentic understanding of human freedom and human flourishing, animated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sustained by the sacrifices of so many faithful disciples of Jesus who support this apostolate of Catholic education.”
Bishop David O’Connell of Trenton, N.J., also a member on the bishops’ Committee on Education, said that “Catholic schools offer the whole package, including faith formation, in a single Catholic learning environment every day, all day. They are the hope for our Church’s future, as they have always been, and they are the key to keeping a full and active faith alive among the young.”
Patti Armstrong writes from North Dakota.