The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin  Catholic

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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
January 25, 2002 Issue

Majority of Catholic schools in urban areas

Catholic school enrollment decreased slightly

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WASHINGTON, D.C.--Fifty-four new Catholic schools opened for the 2000-2001 school year, bringing the total to 8,146 schools nationwide.

"We're encouraged by the growing demand for Catholic schools," said Michael Guerra, president of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). "Enrollment has increased steadily throughout the 90s and waiting lists have prompted the expansion of existing schools as well as an increase in new schools. We expect this trend to continue throughout the next decade."

Guerra made the announcement based on data in the newly published United States Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools 2000-2001, NCEA's annual statistical report on schools, enrollment and staffing. According to Guerra, more than 300 new Catholic schools have been opened over the past decade.

The statistical report notes that waiting lists are now the norm in suburban schools (44%). Over-subscribed lottery systems also are common in urban areas where privately funded scholarships or publicly funded vouchers are available to low income families.

Catholic school enrollment for the current academic year is 2,647,301, including 2,004,037 elementary and middle school students and 643,264 secondary school students according to the study. This represents a decrease of 5,737 students--less than one-half of one percent--from the previous academic year. This follows a period of steady annual growth in Catholic education where numbers have increased by some 86,000 students in the last seven years.

According to Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and Educational Research at NCEA, the enrollment decreases have been centered in the urban areas of the Mideast and Great Lakes.

"Large numbers of schools in these areas served the children of Catholic immigrants in the late 19th and 20th centuries," she said. "Their descendants have moved out of these neighborhoods and into the suburbs."

"The good news is that there is a growing demand and enthusiasm for Catholic schools in the suburban areas, especially in the Southeast and West," she added. "In addition to the 54 new schools opened last year, many more are projected to open in the coming year. Demand for faith and values-based education continues to grow."

"The good news isn't reaching out to everyone-thousands of families remain on admission waiting lists and thousands more find modest Catholic school tuition unaffordable," said Guerra. "Our challenge is to encourage Catholic school expansion and to continue our efforts to support greater access for families of modest means by strengthening our own fundraising programs and by joining forces with others to promote public policies that provide full and fair school choice."

Strong urban presence

Dr. Robert Kealey, executive director of NCEA's Elementary School Department, said that the total number of Catholic elementary and middle school students is 2,004,037. There are 6,920 Catholic elementary schools.

"Of special note is the significant presence of Catholic schools in urban and inner cities," he said. "Almost 46% of Catholic schools are located in these areas, despite population losses and great financial difficulties in maintaining them."

"The remarkable urban presence of Catholic schools underscores that the Catholic Church values its commitment to educate children, particularly the children of the poor," he continued.

Almost 14% of the student enrollment in all Catholic schools is non-Catholic.

"It's clear that parents of all religious backgrounds seek Catholic schools for a values-based curriculum and academic excellence," said Dr. Kealey.

Sr. Mary Frances Taymans, executive director, NCEA Secondary Schools department, reported that 643,264 students are enrolled in Catholic high schools, up form 639,954.

Naturally we are pleased that enrollments in Catholic secondary schools continue to rise, but there is a long list of those who cannot afford tuition, in spite of extensive financial aid packages available at the majority of our high schools," said Sr. Taymans. "Catholic school leaders are therefore essential partners in the school choice movement. We are committed to justice and equal educational choice for all parents and children."

Regina Haney, executive director, National Association of Boards, Commissions and Councils of Catholic Education (NABCCCE) at NCEA underscored the important role of Catholic school boards.

"Boards provide the vision and leadership to make new schools happen and existing schools thrive," she said. "Board members are particularly committed to increasing Catholic school availability, a particular challenge given the large number of students on waiting lists nationwide."

Daniel Curtin, executive director of Chief Administrators of Catholic Education (CACE) indicated that effective marketing has played a key role in Catholic school growth. He cited in particular the success of the National Marketing Campaign for Catholic Schools, a join project of NCEA and the United States conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Curtin also noted that NCEA has embarked on a teacher recruitment campaign to help dioceses staff schools.

"Our message underscores that Catholic school teachers are there because of the strong faith-filled environment," he said.

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