By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
If you thought Catholic education was financially out of reach, church and school leaders recommend that you take another look — especially at a new elementary school plan intended to double the amount of financial aid available to families.
The Archdiocese of Louisville announced a broad new plan last week that makes elementary school tuition more affordable for middle class families. It also includes a preferential option for the poor in the form of a discount for low-income families.
The plan, in the works for two years, aims to generate more donors from the business community and archdiocesan leaders say it opens the door for new school structures that address specific community needs.
“It really is a new day in the Archdiocese of Louisville for families who’ve been thinking for a while about Catholic elementary school but somehow were unsure about whether they could financially make it possible,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz during a press conference at the Chancery Nov. 6.
“We will effectively double the amount of tuition assistance that will be going to families to reach the level of more than $3 million annually,” he said, noting this will result from a partnership between the archdiocese, its parishes and the Catholic Education Foundation. “It is a great commitment and sacrifice and it will be, I hope, a great, great help,” he said.
He made the announcement with Richard A. Lechleiter, president of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF).
The foundation awarded a record of nearly $1.7 million in tuition assistance for the 2014-2015 school year, up from more than $1.3 million last year.
“We’re now helping to directly support over 1 in 10 students in our Catholic elementary schools across the archdiocese,” Lechleiter said.
He said the CEF aims to award $2 million in tuition assistance next fall, a 20 percent increase.
Lechleiter called the new plan a historic step on a path toward making Catholic education accessible to all who want it.
“There is new hope today, like never before, that this gift to our young people is more accessible and more affordable than ever,” he said. Lechleiter said the new plan “will provide powerful financial resources to our young families.”
The plan calls for:
- Voucher Fund — The Archdiocesan Voucher Fund will be created by a 1 percent contribution from each of the archdiocese’s 111 parishes, based on their gross incomes. Ten percent of this money will go to the CEF. The other 90 percent will fund tuition discount vouchers (described below) and will provide tuition assistance vouchers for parish families.
Tuition assistance vouchers for Catholic students will supplement the assistance provided by the CEF to fulfill a portion of a family’s remaining need.
The new tuition discount vouchers have been established for families — regardless of faith tradition — whose income doesn’t meet a minimum threshold. For the 2015-2016 school year, that threshold is 200% of the federally-designated poverty rate. For some perspective, the 2014 poverty rate for a family of four is an annual income of $23,850.The discount will be $1,000 for the first child and $500 for additional children. The cost of the discounts will be shared equally by the archdiocese — in the form of the tuition vouchers — and the school.
The parish contributions to this fund will begin in July and a committee of pastors will serve as advisors.
- Fundraising — The traditional Easter Sunday collection for the CEF will be replaced in 2016 by an appeal to be carried out each spring with mailings to all parishioners.
- New donors — The Louisville archdiocese will continue to work with the other three Kentucky dioceses and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky to support legislation that would provide tax credits to businesses for their donations to schools.
- Parish membership — A new policy will enable a student registered in a parish without a school to attend any Catholic school — with available space — and pay the parishioner tuition rate.
- Transportation — The archdiocese also will assist families and parishes in developing a transportation system for those traveling from a parish without a school.
- Community needs — New school models, such as a school within a school, will be designed to meet certain needs in the community — such as cultural, language or educational needs.
St. Rita School has already begun such a project, said Leisa Schulz during the Nov. 6 press conference. She said the school is working to meet the needs of Hispanic families and has increased enrollment of this demographic.
Grants from the archdiocese will be available to assist with the costs.
- New schools — The archdiocese also will encourage the creation of new, independent Catholic schools by offering criteria, guidelines and other support to parents.
- Central business offices — Alternative central business offices may be created to provide administrative support for two or more elementary schools. Schools may choose to use these offices for payroll, tuition collection and other services. The initiative will be supervised by the archdiocese’s finance office.
Archbishop Kurtz added that this plan “is going to need to be refined; it’s going to need to be enhanced as the future moves forward, but I believe this is a great milestone.”
The Archdiocese of Louisville has 37 elementary schools serving about 13,200 students.