Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tuition-free Catholic schools

Mike at DORCatholic -- "DOR" stands for Diocese of Rochester -- alerts us to a new report from Dayton, Ohio's Thomas B. Fordham Institute entitled "Who Will Save America's Urban Catholic Schools?" You can find an executive summary on page 5. I had the pleasure of working with Fordham's Checker Finn during my stint at the Buckeye Institute. His team's research was always thorough and provocative (in the best sense of the term.) According to the report, what will save urban Catholic schools appears to be a combination of creativity, focus, philanthropic entrepreneurship, and a commitment to making the education of the poor a "core mission." (Interestingly, the report takes a dim view of vouchers.) And given the qualities of the diocese highlighted by Mike in his post, "reputation for orthodoxy" is perhaps another critical success factor:
Of particular interest is the story of the Wichita, Kansas Catholic School System. With but 120,000 Catholics in the diocese Wichita maintains 39 Catholic schools. 36 of these are parish schools (including 34 elementary schools), one is a free-standing preschool, and four are Catholic high schools. According to the report, "What makes the Wichita system truly unusual in this day and age is the fact that all Wichita Catholic schools have eliminated tuition for Catholic students."

This has been accomplished by pastors and the bishop calling on all "parishioners to live a 'stewardship way of life' that involved a greater commitment to their parish and Catholic ideals."

The response has been nothing short of amazing. Learning from the example of one parish that had been modeling a stewardship program throughout the 1960s an 1970s, the bishop encouraged all his people to do the same starting in 1984. Support has grown so much since then that the last Catholic school to be charging any tuition to Catholic students stopped doing so in 2002.