John Convey , Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies fellow and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Professor of Education, and Leonard DeFiore , Brother Patrick Ellis Professor of Education, were quoted in an April 30 Times-Picayune article about a study they led of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. See the article below.

New Orleans Area Catholic Elementary Schools Could See Sweeping Changes

From: Times-Picayune Date: April 30, 2012 Author: Bruce Nolan Planners trying to stabilize the finances of Catholic elementary schools around the region are proposing sweeping changes that include asking all Catholics to substantially increase giving in the pews; raising tuition; and creating a financial aid process to help families who can't afford the increased cost. The recommendations represent a substantial redesign of financing for 54 Catholic elementary schools around metro New Orleans that enroll about 22,000 students.

The recommendations, by consultants John Convey and Leonard DeFiore of Catholic University of America, so far are only that.

They are being digested by a committee of 18 local pastors, educators and laypeople, which in June will send the plan, along with their recommendations, to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who will make the final decisions.

The new financing proposals are part of a study Aymond commissioned on the future of elementary schools in light of steady enrollment declines. While high schools are affected by parts of the study, which, for instance, recommends that elementary schools stop at seventh grade, the study makes no recommendations about high school tuition or finances.

The enrollment decline is due in part to depopulation after Hurricane Katrina, neighborhood demographic changes, and in New Orleans, improvements to public education introduced through the charter school movement. Since 2000, enrollment in area Catholic schools from pre-K through eighth grade has fallen 23 percent, according to archdiocesan figures.

And that has imposed increasing financial stress on the remaining families who are forced to bear schools' fixed costs, leading additional families to drop out.

The financing proposals were unveiled during the past month in a series of six town meetings, where they met significant skepticism from parents -- especially the idea of increasing tuition and buffering that with subsidies.

"I find it interesting that (in studies done by focus groups) one of the main concerns from parents is the cost of tuition, and the first solution you present is to raise tuition," Tab Shepherd, a mother of two Catholic school students, said at a meeting in Covington last month.

What effect that popular resistance will have remains to be seen.

The 18-member committee must weigh the package of ideas before making its recommendation to Aymond. Generally, however, "The last thing the archdiocese wants to do is say there's resistance to this, but we're going to do it anyway," DeFiore said.

Still, there is little doubt that elementary school finances "have to be made more affordable for any family that wants a Catholic education," said Superintendent Jan Lancaster.

To soften the effect of the tuition increases, the consultants are recommending that the archdiocese ask all Catholics in its 109 parishes to increase their personal giving in the pews by 25 percent over three years, creating a new subsidy pool to aid Catholic school parents.

Church-going Americans generally give about 2.4 percent of their income to their churches, according to empty tomb inc., a non-profit that tracks church giving. Another study called the U.S. Congregational Life Survey recently found that Catholics give the least among major denominations.

Parishes with schools and $300,000 in annual income -- 60 percent meet that wealth requirement -- would pay 20 percent of their collection plate income in school subsidies. Across the archdiocese that figure now averages about 19 percent, but there is a wide variance among parishes. Some give as little as 6 percent while others bear nearly 50 percent, Convey said.

Parishes without schools would be asked for the first time to pay 10 percent of their income to the proposed subsidy pool, the consultants said. Currently, those parishes pay $300 each to subsidize individual children from their parishes at other schools. But they pay no general school tax into the system.

The consultants also recommend that over three to five years, tuition be raised to a level that nearly matches actual costs. Local schools are free to determine their own budgets on a parish-by-parish basis, using market forces, not archdiocesan schedules, to set tuition, teacher salaries and other matters, they said.

Generally, however, Catholic elementary school tuition averages about $4,200 for a first child in school, against an education cost of about $5,000, according to archdiocesan figures.

To soften the blow of higher tuitions, the plan recommends distributing subsidies out of the pool formed by increased collections. Parents would apply to an independent company which would vet families' finances and determine how much they could afford to pay, and how much subsidy they would qualify for.

The system, new to the elementary school scene, is similar to that used by many private schools and all colleges and universities.

Although there are no numbers with which to run detailed analyses, DeFiore estimated that "about a third" of families would be required to pay the full cost of their own pockets.

"Your wealthiest people would be asked not to take a subsidy, pay the full freight and the school would have that available to provide to needy families who want to come, but now can't," DeFiore said.

Convey said the rest would qualify for some subsidy coming out of the pockets of all Catholic church-goers "so that the actual tuition they pay will be less than the tuition sticker price, and in some cases, less than they are paying now."

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