Austin Conley, Director of Advancement in the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools, estimates that 40% of the Catholic school students in the Diocese are at or below the poverty line. The Catholic Education Foundation would provide a path to Catholic education for those students and others in similar economic circumstances, he said.
“We know what a life-changing experience Catholic education is for families in poverty,” says Conley, who has been the central planner and coordinator of the Foundation’s launch. “This Foundation really reflects the Mission of the Diocese to bring hope to families.”
Bishop Gerald Barnes announced the creation of the Foundation at the 15th Annual Bishop’s Dinner on Apr. 26. A Board of Directors will set fundraising policy and direction for the Foundation. Board members will be selected, in part, based on their ability to identify major donors who can help to build an endowment for the Foundation. Current fundraising related activities of the Office of Catholic Schools, including the annual Bishop’s Golf Classic, the existing Catholic Schools Endowment and the recently established Bishop’s Scholarship will be absorbed into the Foundation, Conley says. A three-member staff, including an executive director, will run the day-to-day operations of the Foundation.
By focusing on tuition assistance for families at the poverty line, the Foundation will have the ability to attract donors who have previously not supported Catholic schools, Conley says.
“This will allow us to approach other foundations for support,” he says. “organizations that would invest in education but might not invest in the Church.”
While monies raised through the Catholic Education Foundation will not be used to supplement the budgets of struggling schools, Conley says it will have a positive impact on school finances. Most schools write off thousands of dollars each year in unpaid tuition. If they were receiving greater financial assistance, Conley says, families would be able to pay the full tuition. Students at Catholic schools in the Diocese that are struggling the most, financially, will likely be first in line to receive assistance through the Foundation.
“This would enable all of our Catholic parents to open a door that might not otherwise be open,” said Sue Long, principal at Our Lady of the Assumption School in San Bernardino. “All too often economic constraints mean families are limited to the public school system.”
Catholic school enrollment in the diocese has followed the national trend of steep decline over the past decade, although enrollment at local Catholic high schools has been on the rise for several years. To create the Foundation, the Diocese studied the Educational Foundation of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which distributes about $9 million a year in tuition assistance, and the Fulcrum Foundation of the Archdiocese of Seattle.
There is a sense of urgency driving the new Foundation, Catholic school leaders say. Making a Catholic education available to more children in the Diocese offers benefits that go far beyond the classroom.
“When we are able to increase the number of families who can afford to provide their children with a Catholic education we not only keep our schools open, but we foster vocations to religious life, increase the vitality of the parish community and provide a healthy and safe focal point in the neighborhood,” said Patricia Vesely, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Diocese.