School plan commendable

The Archdiocese of Louisville, its parishes and schools and the Catholic Education Foundation should be commended for their part in the new Catholic Elementary School Plan.

The plan represents a new commitment to Catholic families struggling to keep pace with tuition costs. And it represents a new commitment to the poor.

Heaven knows it’s needed.

The archdiocese’s 2012 Catholic Elementary School Report said 67 percent of families cite cost as a factor in their choice not to choose Catholic schools. This new plan will surely help.

The plan is multifaceted and weaves together tuition assistance from a variety of sources. The archdiocese highlighted four parts of the plan during a press conference last month at the chancery. Those four elements are:

-The creation of a voucher program for tuition assistance funded by parishes.
-Advocacy for state tax credits benefitting businesses that donate to schools.
-The provision of grants from the archdiocese to create new school structures that would enable schools to address particular needs in the community.
-A discount on school tuition for students from low-income families. This cost will be absorbed by the archdiocese and schools.

All of these elements ultimately benefit families. But they will also strengthen schools by filling their seats, which will have a domino effect on all aspects of the school, according to superintendent Leisa Schulz.

“We have capacity generally across all the schools to accept more students without adding additional staff,” she said. Which means there will be more funds available to improve schools in other ways.

While the parishes with schools are likely to benefit from the anticipated influx of students, all parishes — including those without schools — will be making a sacrifice to make this possible.

Every parish in the archdiocese will contribute one percent of its income to the tuition voucher program. Those contributions are expected to total about $1.3 million in the first year.

It’s a sacrifice parishes are willing to make, said Dr. Brian Reynolds, the archdiocese’s chancellor and chief administrative officer.

He said pastors and lay leaders helped make this decision.

“Our parishes felt strongly that we need to preserve Catholic schools as a priority. That was a value held even by parishes that don’t sponsor a school,” Reynolds said.

Parishes, he said, believe that families who want to send their children to Catholic schools should be able to do so.

And that goes for all families.

The tuition discount for low-income families — the preferential option for the poor, as the archbishop has called it — is open to children of any or no faith. It is a no-strings-attached outreach to those in need.

That part of the plan may strengthen Catholic schools in unforeseen ways.

It has the potential to be evangelical — a show of goodwill that may attract new converts, though that’s not the aim.

It also provides an example to school children, their parents, parishioners and everyone in the community that Christ’s outreach to the poor is alive in the archdiocese. And that may prove to be one of the most important aspects of the whole plan.

No amount of preaching can make that lesson come to life the way the new discount will.

In an interview after the plan was announced, the president of the Catholic Education Foundation (CEF), said that for some, Catholic education is simply out of reach.

“It’s a story of the haves and have nots,” said Richard Lechleiter, the CEF president.

When he was a child — one of nine children — Lechleiter’s parents could afford Catholic schools, he said, but he also noted that it would be hard for them to do that today.

The reasons for the increased cost are understandable. Most Catholic school teachers now are lay people, men and women earning a living to support their families. This is a drastic change from the past when mostly women religious staffed parish school.

Schools also are constantly weighing the cost of ever-changing technology against its benefits.

The CEF has faithfully supplemented the increased cost of tuition and technology as the costs have risen. But it hasn’t been able to keep pace with the need. As a part of the new plan, the CEF committed to increasing its support next year by 20 percent — to $2 million. And Lechleiter says he has big plans for the future.

We can do our part, too, by supporting these efforts financially and prayerfully.

Marnie McAllister
Record Assistant Editor

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