Catholic schools have made headlines this year for maintaining academic progress, with in-person learning becoming one of the greatest success stories of this school year. But based on the National Catholic Education Association’s (NCEA) annual report, the most promising success of CEF schools may have been their ability to maintain stable enrollment, bucking a national trend among Catholic schools.
According to last month’s report, Catholic schools nationwide saw enrollment fall 6.4% last fall - the largest decrease in over 50 years. Across the country, 3.7% of elementary Catholic schools were forced to close their doors, disproportionately impacting inner-city, low-income, and minority populations. Due to finances, additional school closures are expected in the year ahead. Meanwhile, the need continues to increase, with more and more Catholic school families falling at or below the poverty line.
Locally, however, schools have a much different story to tell. Not a single Catholic school supported by CEF scholarships has closed this school year. The Archdiocese saw enrollment fall only 2.9%, on track with the national enrollment decrease the year prior to the pandemic. Again, these numbers have made the biggest impact on those most in need, with more than 1 in 3 students at CEF schools qualifying for free or reduced lunch, compared to approximately 1 in 8 nationwide.
Principals at CEF-supported schools note that the slight enrollment decline in their schools this year was felt mostly in kindergarten classrooms, as parents delayed enrollment until after the pandemic. Social distancing guidelines also reduced classroom sizes.
While a deeper dive into the stories behind the numbers will be needed in order to paint the full picture of 2020’s impact, reports from CEF school principals and families make one thing clear: the CEF scholarship model has had an immense impact on schools’ ability to meet financial obligations this year.
“We’re seeing the proof in action,” said Dr. Vince Cascone, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of KCK, “and the numbers are showing what we already knew - this model works and is a tremendous way to welcome families with the assistance they need.”
Support for low-income families is making a distinguishing impact. Read more about how CEF scholarships are stabilizing Catholic schools.