We will celebrate 2018 Catholic Schools Week from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, which always brings to mind the great blessings that Catholic schools provide to the civic community as well as the great challenges our schools face. Does affordability continue to be a major challenge?
It certainly is, and that’s something that causes me great pain. I know there are families who desire Catholic education for their children as well as children who desire Catholic education, but because of finances, they can’t attend our schools. We as the archdiocese and many Catholic elementary and high schools are able to offer some tuition assistance each year, but we don’t have enough financial assistance to meet the demand. The state scholarship program helps about 3,000 children attend our schools, but there are still a good number of people for whom there is not enough financial assistance. This is something that pains me greatly. We say as bishops that everyone should have access to Catholic education, but the reality is that Catholic education is for those who either get a scholarship or for those who can afford it. I think and pray about this often, and I wish I had the answer.
Is this a problem across the country?
It’s a challenge throughout the United States. I know of only one diocese that is able to completely support Catholic schools through an aggressive stewardship program in its parishes. Other than that, we are all struggling with this issue. This has meant that the number of students attending Catholic schools each year has decreased. The decrease is less this year than in years past, but every year there is a decrease.
Are finances the major reason?
Yes. Think about it. If a parent has even two children in Catholic elementary school, that’s probably not less than $10,000. And if you consider high school tuition and other fees, sometimes families are faced with paying $20,000 to $30,000 a year or more in Catholic school tuition. I truly admire those parents who make incredible sacrifices to send their children to Catholic school. They are the unsung heroes of Catholic schools. They want to share their Catholic faith with their children. Sometimes they have to work two or three jobs to afford the tuition. Catholic Schools Week also gives us an opportunity to thank the presidents, principals, administrators, faculty and staff of Catholic schools because they make our schools what they are – seedbeds of faith. We have very dedicated faculties throughout the archdiocese. Schools do the best they can to pay a just wage to our teachers, but we all know that salary is not equal to what teachers could make in the public school system. Our teachers and administrators are making a great sacrifice. They view their work not as a job but as a vocation. Everyone teaching in a Catholic school is a vital part of the church’s teaching ministry.
How has the archdiocesan strategic plan for schools worked out?
It depends upon whom you ask. If you ask some pastors and principals who used to have eighth grade in the elementary school, they miss the eighth grade. The high schools are happy to have the eighth grade. Some schools had to expand their grade levels because of the strategic plan. Some parishes feel it has not affected them greatly; others feel it has. We were in a difficult position, and I think we did what we had to do. We did what the experts suggested and tailored the plan to our own situation. There is no plan that would have been perfect for everyone.
What’s the latest on state support for Catholic schools?
We do know that our parents are faced with an inequity. They pay taxes that go to support public schools, and they also pay tuition. The state has attempted to maintain the money they have given us for required services and the scholarship program, but these programs come up for evaluation every year and we risk losing that money. That’s why it’s important to keep an eye on what the Legislature does each year because it could have a big impact on our schools and on their finances. Parents can keep abreast of the latest information about the state budget as it relates to Catholic schools by going to laccb.org (the website of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops). Rob Tasman, the executive director of the LCCB, does an excellent job in Baton Rouge advocating for our Catholic schools throughout the state. I would ask everyone to offer a prayer of thanksgiving this week for all of our Catholic schools. They are blessings not only to us as Catholics but also to the wider community.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.