Thursday, June 7, 2007

THE SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

Perhaps ten years ago or more the Atlantic Quarterly ran an article predicting the end of Catholic grade school education. They surmised that the cost of educating our young would become so great that a good Catholic education would only be available to the elite. I was appalled at the suggestion. Affordable, quality, Catholic education has been a trademark of the Church in the United States benefiting both the Church and state in innumerable ways.

In the Diocese of Cleveland it was not uncommon when a parish was founded to build the school first followed later by the church building. To this day some parishes still have mass in what was originally intended to be a school gym, but when “Black Sunday” hit and many people abandoned neighborhoods, the parishes lost their base and were not able to build the hoped for church building and so remain much as they were at the beginning of their mission.

Today at least part of the prophecy of the Atlantic Quarterly is coming true. The expense of running a Catholic school is becoming such a burden that it is difficult to keep them open. The school where I am is healthy and growing. But there is not a school in the diocese that does not need to take its future into serious consideration. We no longer have nuns willing to work for room and board and a few dollars a week. Technology is a constant drain on finances. State mandates continue to grow but state funding for them continues to dry up. Of course most of our buildings are now about half a century old and they are expensive to maintain. But the single largest factor raising the cost of education through the roof is benefits.

Once free to any parishioner, yearly tuition is now in the thousands. That amount rarely covers the actual cost of teaching a child. Because of the cost, far less families take advantage of a parish school yet they still pay for other’s education through their donations to the parish that must subsidize the school to keep it afloat. There is some relief in Cleveland through the voucher system, but it is not enough.

Tuition rises and so less families take advantage of the school. With every empty desk the cost of teaching a child rises. Often the only alternative is raising tuition which in turn means less families taking advantage of the school, which in turn means it cost more to teach each child . . .

Phillip Morris, a non-Catholic columnist for the Plain Dealer talks about some of our schools in older neighborhoods this past Thursday. He notes that many can be largely non-Catholic now a days. Concerning sending his daughter to a closing Catholic school he writes, “. . . her mother and I have relied heavily on the diocese to provide our daughter with a quality and affordable education. Not once have we thought of converting. . . . Are we part of the problem or part of the solution? . . .Many non-Catholics have long viewed the church (sic) as a way to get a quality education on the cheap and have reaped the benefits without making a commitment. But the reality is the Catholic Church is not a coffee house. As painful as it seems to the affected, closings were inevitable. Now it falls to me to explain that to an 8-year-old, who often wonders why she is not Catholic.”

There are not any answers here. The unfortunate thing is that it comes down not desire and belief in the mission, but cost. Only so many cookies can be sold. Only so much can be gambled on through parish carnivals and Bingo. Tuition can only be raised so high before Catholic education becomes only for the elite.




Has the time for Catholic grade school education come and gone? Are we willing to let Catholic grade school education be only for the wealthy? Do we have a choice?

8 comments:

Gypsy said...

The key, I would say, is something that you mentioned. Cheap (holy, priceless, knowlegeable, committed) labor. Did Sr. Mary Long-gone pull down the secular principal's salary? Oy, no, nor did any of her Religious teachers receive what lay teachers are getting.

Unless one was granted a subsidy, a Catholic school education, even grammar school level, has been for the elite here since I was a child. About 20 years ago, I sent a little girl to St. Mary's kindergarten for 2.5 hrs a day, for a mere $1500/yr. That didn't cover pencils, papers, uniforms. We had 2 teens and an infant as well, and we couldn't afford to send her to 1st grade there which jumped by another thou..not even with the $400 subsidy we'd have received if I'd hosted bingo games and sold 20/20 tickets, and more, all year.

In earlier retrospect, I maybe should've taken on paid babysitting along with part-time jobs to try to foot it, but I didn't and have always felt I let her -- sweet, shy, gentle -- down. These days, in retrospect, I'd have homeschooled her, but it wasn't much of an option back then around here.

Rob said...

-They surmised that the cost of educating our young would become so great that a good Catholic education would only be available to the elite.-

It costs $4,000 a year to attend my kids school. However, we have a tax-credit tuition-assistance program in Arizona that pays up to three-quarters of that. Our school receives over $100,000 each year in this assistance. So, needy students can go to our school for $100 a month.

-We no longer have nuns willing to work for room and board and a few dollars a week.-

We have recently had a couple new orders of nuns move into the diocese. When I first came on as principal, I had the bright idea of hiring nuns in the future to keep costs down and have a religious presence on campus.

However, even if we do get nuns, we would be required to pay them as much as we pay lay teachers, so the good old days are gone!

The real problem is that people squander their resources. I have had people tell me that even $50 a month is too much. Of course, the people saying this have new cars, cable TV, DVD players, etc. The fault really lies with the average, materialistic, contracepting Catholic who worships his things and not God.

Catholic education does not cost too much.

Vater unser said...

Parents interested in a Catholic education for their child never ask questions about the religious curriculum. Young parents use these schools for a private education. The "Catholic" component is no longer the priority...the questions asked refer to the school's use of technology, the size of the gymnasium, the extracurricular sports and other activities, after-school care, math programs, etc. No parent has ever asked me about our Catholic studies. Will Catholic schools survive? Who knows...

Adoro te Devote said...

My Mom grew up in Catholic schools, but it was never an option for my brother and I in our area (we grew up on welfare, so even the assistance offered was not enough).

A Sister at my parish actually offered me a scholarship for my senior year, however, by then it was too late as the courses I was taking were not offered at the Catholic High School...and they were actually sending their students to take those courses in my school!

The parish I attend now has a wonderful school. A year ago when we became a full stewardship parish, tuition became free for everyone, but due to some very dire financial issues which preceeded our full-stewardship status, they've had to reinstate and raise tuition for next year, and they are working very hard to help people to keep their kids in the school.

When our Pastor announced the reinstatement of tuition during Mass one Sunday, he was near tears...it was so obvious. It was likely the hardest decision he's had to make thus far, out of many many man difficult decisions he's been forced into.

Our school is doing well, but, people are suffering.

A little boy, non-Catholic, is attending that school. He came up to Father the other day and asked him if he (Father) was going to be there the next day. Father couldn't guarantee it so asked why the inquiry? The little boy told him that the next day would be his last day, his parents didn't go to church, and he asked for Father's blessing since he didn't know if or when he'd ever be able to get another one.

When Father related this story (I heard it third hand), he nearly became emotional.

Catholic schools make such a difference, and the reality is that people CAN'T afford the costs. Something has to be done, but I don't know what.

Parma John said...

The sad thing is that the "Catholic schools" are not so Catholic. Sex ed, Virtus, and all the other garbage you can just as easily get for free at a government school.

One exciting development is lay Catholics starting there own schools.

Two wonderful examples are the Lyceum and Padre Pio Academy in Cleveland.

http://www.thelyceum.org/

http://www.pioacademy.org/

I'm too old to send my kids to these two schools, but I do send them a few nickles each time my SS check comes in.

Fr. V said...

"The real problem is that people squander their resources. I have had people tell me that even $50 a month is too much. Of course, the people saying this have new cars, cable TV, DVD players, etc. The fault really lies with the average, materialistic, contracepting Catholic who worships his things and not God."

Rob - priests would be crucified for saying but yes, it is almost NEVER the ones that are struggling that don't make tuition payments. Better get off of this one . . .

However,

"Parents interested in a Catholic education for their child never ask questions about the religious curriculum. Young parents use these schools for a private education. The "Catholic" component is no longer the priority..."

Which raises the question, are we fulfilling our mission statement anyway? The last two schools at which I have been I beleive have, but especially what about when you just become a private school that happens to be Catholic instead of a Catholic school (as some of our universities or hospitals?


"Two wonderful examples are the Lyceum and Padre Pio Academy in Cleveland."

Never heard of Padre Pio School, where is it? I am familiar withthe Lyceum - was just there for a dinner not too long ago.

uncle jim said...

Last TH 5/31 in the on-line daily version of Christianity Today magazine, there is an article by one of their editors about the costs of Christian education today. I like to see what others are thinking, so I offer you this link.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/mayweb-only/122-43.0.html

Eileen said...

Have to agree with Parma John. To answer your question Father, we discovered Padre Pio in our own "backyard" two years ago. Our son is now in the 7th grade there and we love the people and the curriculum. It is in Lakewood and has been open for 4 years.