Starting this week, Catholic schools across the country will celebrate their unique identity and mission during Catholic Schools Week. The purpose, according to the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA), is to “focus on the value Catholic education provides to young people and its contributions to our Church, our communities, and our nation.” Statistics, however, are showing that many families are choosing to send their kids to public schools instead of their local Catholic schools.
NCEA’s report “United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2014-2015: The Annual Statistical Report on Schools, Enrollment, and Staffing” shows that since 2005, elementary school enrollment has declined by 30 percent in the 12 urban dioceses and 20.4 percent in the rest of the United States. In light of those numbers, here are some challenges facing our Catholic schools.
Many parochial high schools now cost per year the same as some public universities. That’s a hard pill to swallow. This reality was acknowledged in the June 2014 report, Catholic Schools in the United States in the
21st Century: Importance in Church Life, Challenges, and Opportunities,” by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).
The report noted that “the one factor that dissuades Catholic parents the most from enrolling children in Catholic schools is tuition costs. Whether parents choose to enroll children or not, a majority cite tuition costs as a problem for them.”
Again, the NCEA report recognizes this with the statistic that of the 150,709 teachers in Catholic schools, only 2.8 percent are religious or clergy (sisters: 1.9 percent; brothers: 0.4 percent; clergy: 0.5 percent). And while that statistic does not reflect on the quality of education provided, having that presence certainly serves as a reminder of the school’s foundation.
Presence also can refer to Catholic schools in general. In 2014-2015, 27 new schools opened across the country, while 88 consolidated or closed.
The US bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education states that “our schools serve both the faith community and society by educating children, young people and adults to contribute to the common good by becoming active and caring members of the communities, cities, and nation in which they live.”
In the ever-changing educational environment, continuing to maintain a focus not only on academics, but also on providing an atmosphere that promotes service and religious formation, must remain a hallmark of Catholic education. This is especially important since, according to the CARA report, the top reason parents chose to enroll children in Catholic schools is for “quality religious education.”
An Important Ministry
There are things that need to be addressed and discussed in regard to the future of Catholic education. There are an equal number of statistics and reports, however, that show Catholic schools are making a difference as far as developing engaged and active members of our Church.
As the CARA report states, “The Catholic Church will be weakened by significant future losses of Catholic schools.”
In light of that benefit to the entire Church, the celebration of Catholic Schools Week is one well worth having.