We have discussed in the past on this blog that Catholic Education throughout the country is in serious crisis. The Washington Archdiocese is no exception. A combination of factors are to blame for the significant numbers of closings in this Archdiocese:
- The Loss of Opportunity Scholarships (vouchers),
- The increasing cost of running schools.
- Aging and expensive school buildings.
- The necessarily higher tuition rates put schools out of range for an increasing number of families.
- Fewer benefactors in hard economic times means fewer scholarships.
- Declining birthrates in Catholic families means there are simply fewer children to fill the seats
- Declining numbers of active catholics means Parish budgets are shrinking and fewer Catholics have to cover the increasing costs of parish subsidies for schools.
- Declining number of religious vocations to staff our schools.
An article appeared in the Washington Post on Tuesday that I would like to excerpt here and include some of my own commentary in RED
- Catholic schools look at closing
- 14 in District and Md. with lower enrollment discuss concerns
- By Michael Birnbaum
- Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Pastors at 14 churches in the Washington Archdiocese have warned that their schools could close or be reconfigured if enrollments continue to decline.
The schools are split evenly between the District and Maryland, and all serve students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Not all are in immediate threat of closure. But the meetings between pastors and school parents in the past month signal a further possible retrenchment of Catholic social services in the same month that the church announced it would pull Catholic Charities out of contracts with the city if it doesn’t change a proposed bill on same-sex marriage. And in the case of the threatened D.C. schools, the archdiocese is encouraging its parishioners to get politically involved. Not so fast here! The Church has not announced that we will pull Catholic Charities out of anything. What we HAVE indicated is that we would no longer qualify to receive city funds in the care of the poor if the current Gay Marriage Bill is passed without further religious exemption. It is the CITY which is causing this possibility not the Church. It is the Church that will be kicked to the curb in this regard. We are not threatening to do anything, we will simply be disqualified by these draconian new laws. As for the education matter we are encouraging Catholics to get politically involved so as to get the congress to revisit their decision to shut down the Opportunity Scholarship Program (vouchers). The Congress has currently chosen unions over children. It is clear that options are best for children. Returning them to a failed Public School System is wrong. We need to politically organize parents and families to convince the congress that children are more important that unions and school bureaucracies.
“These are the schools that have an urgent need for the pastors to sit down with them to discuss the financial health of the community,” said Kathy Dempsey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. [The archdiocese operates 96 schools in the District and Maryland and serves 28,629 students, down 2.4 percent from last year, when it closed two schools in Southern Maryland. Two years ago, it gave up control of seven D.C. schools and converted them to public charters]. We did not covert them. We rented them to a high quality Charter provider so that the legacy of our school buildings to provide quality educational alternatives, especially to the poor would be maintained. The Current Charter Operator (Center City Public Charter Schools) does a fine job providing quality, values based education to largely inner city children. Catholic Education would still be better but this is a good fall back position given the current challenges in operating faith-based Catholic Schools. Notice that these schools closed even prior to the end of vouchers. The schools that did remain open are, for the most part very fragile and the loss of the vouchers may well be the end of them. Vouchers alone cannot keep our schools open but they can provide an important life line that is part of the necessary mix in funding sources.
Dempsey said that people at the seven D.C. schools now under threat met to discuss the futureof the D.C. voucher program, which is up for reauthorization in Congress and was closed this year to new entrants. The seven schools have high proportions of students receiving the federal vouchers, which pay up to $7,500 in tuition for low-income families. Although no formal surveys have been done, Dempsey said many families will probably pull their children out of the schools if the program were discontinued. Dempsey said the church was encouraging the school communities at the meetings “to call Congress and mobilize,” and the archdiocese has been involved in several pro-voucher protests since August.
Of the seven schools in the District, St. Augustine School in Northwest has the highest percentage of voucher students: More than half of its 180 students received vouchers this year, and it was targeted by the archdiocese for conversion into a charter school in September 2007 until community backlash forced a reversal. This is not true. St. Augustine School was never slated for conversion. It was offered a palcein the new Consortium of Catholic Academies which would have kept it open and Catholic. The Parish chose not to accept membership in the Consortium and preferred to return the school to a parish based school. The parish committed to do the fundraising necessary to keep it open and thus far has been successful. The possible loss of half its students will be a serious blow however. Holy Redeemer School, St. Ann’s Academy, Sacred Heart School, St. Anthony, St. Francis Xavier and St. Thomas More were the other schools in the District that had meetings. Voucher students account for at least a fifth of the students at all of them, Dempsey said.
The Maryland schools are St. Hugh School in Greenbelt, St. Jerome and St. Mark in Hyattsville, St. Catherine Labouré in Wheaton, St. Jude in Rockville, St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring and St. Michael in Ridge, in St. Mary’s County. The future of the voucher program doesn’t affect them, but they are suffering from declines in enrollment and charitable giving. As noted above, vouchers or public funding alone cannot save our schools (unless the funding levels were much higher) but some tuition assistance to students is an essential component of helping schools to stay open.
….Schools discussed options to make their operations more sustainable, ranging from increasing enrollment through community outreach to bolstering bank accounts through fundraising, Dempsey said. She said decisions about whether schools close will be made before the January enrollment process begins.
The bottom line is that it looks like we are heading for a smaller more regionally based Catholic School system. I would also like you to consider this fact: As a Church we can no longer sustain many of our programs, schools and parishes when only 27% of Catholics go to Mass regularly and support their parishes financially. In the end this is a people problem well before it is a money problem. People bring resources with them. A lack of people people means a lack of resources. There are other factors listed above but the bottom line is that we are losing critical mass, we are losing synergy.
If you’re a lukewarm Catholic please consider how desperately you are needed. You may expect your parish to be there for you in times of need like weddings, baptisms and funerals but please consider that the “family Church” may close not long after the family school. Missing Mass on Sunday is not just a sin against God who is due our worship. It is not just a sin against your self who needs Holy Communion. It is also a sin against others who need your prayers, presence, talents and resources. Together we can meet the challenges of providing schools and social services. Divided and lukewarm, we are slowly shutting down.
This video is from the Dicoese of Austin TX. But you’ll get the point: