By Rita E. Piro
The past few weeks have been busy for Catholic schools. At elementary academies and schools, the students, teachers, parents and administrators have worked preparing exhibits and presentations for Catholics Schools Week that highlight their achievements and offerings. Meanwhile at high schools, officials reviewed applications, sent out acceptance notices, awarded scholarships and registered students for September.
The Catholic Church is renowned throughout the world for its work in education at all levels – elementary, secondary, college, and university. Catholic schools develop the talents, heart and soul with which God has gifted each of us better than any other system of education in the world. Yet, according to data from the National Catholic Education Association, over 1,600 Catholic schools have closed in the past decade, including many in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens.
At one time, Catholic schools brimming with students were run entirely by religious sisters, brothers and priests who received little, if any, compensation. Currently, lay teachers account for 98 percent of the faculty at Catholic schools across the U.S. The cost of maintaining a lay faculty, technology, labs, books, enrichment programs, athletics, safety and security measures, uniforms and even cafeteria services, has necessitated high tuition payments. Nearly all Catholic school tuition is increasing to a point where it has become unavailable to most families in every diocese in the country.
Studies and surveys have shown that parents, both Catholic and non-Catholic at all socioeconomic levels, would send their children to Catholic school if they were financially able. It is no secret that the greatest obstacle facing Catholic schools is funding. Many supporters of Catholic schools point to the lack of government cooperation in school choice. Few states provide tuition-tax credits or vouchers and parents are forced to pay both tax bills and tuition bills.
Government subsidy of Catholic schools is no closer a reality today as when it was first bandied about among politicians nearly five decades ago. And that’s OK because Catholic schools don’t belong to any government agency or entity. They belong to Catholics who strive to continue the mission of Catholic education originated in the mandate of Jesus Christ to “Go and teach all nations.”
Everyone involved with Catholic schools, from current families to alumni, from administrators to hall monitors, from church leaders to parishioners, needs to take an active part in making Catholic education a viable opportunity.
Consider the fact that there are more than 100 million Americans living today who graduated from a Catholic elementary or high school. If every one of those graduates contributed just a few dollars each year to a Catholic education fund, there would be no need to close or merge any Catholic school. Yet, when asked why they do not contribute financially to Catholic education, the answer is quite simple, “No one ever asked me!”
The Diocese of Wichita, Kan., has provided tuition-free Catholic education on both the elementary and secondary level to children of active parishioners within their diocese since 2004. A handful of schools in other dioceses including two in Pennsylvania have recently turned tuition-free. This has been achieved through regular, generous support from members of all diocesan parishes. All Catholics, whether they have children enrolled in Catholic schools or not, must recognize their role and responsibility to support Catholic education as part of their witness to the mission of Jesus.
The obligation to support Catholic schools is not limited to the faithful. Scholarship programs sponsored by the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, such as Futures in Education’s Be an Angel Program, have been instrumental in providing tuition assistance to the neediest students. The fact remains, however, that in the 21st century of Catholic education, all students need financial assistance from kindergarten through high school.
So to all those Catholic school graduates waiting to be asked to contribute to Catholic education, consider this your invitation.
Rita E. Piro is a freelance writer for Catholic publications, including Liguorian and St. Anthony Messenger, and a native of the Diocese of Brooklyn.