NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Vouchers Breathe New Life into Shrinking Catholic Schools

June 18, 2012

For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life.  Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from closures and declining enrollment, says the Wall Street Journal.

This is not to say that Catholic schools on the whole are growing again -- national statistics show that their share of student enrollment is still shrinking.  However, the growing availability of vouchers is slowing losses and contributing to growth in some communities where they are available.

  • Catholic elementary schools in Chicago saw enrollment increase 3 percent this year and 1 percent last year -- the first two-year growth spurt since 1965.
  • Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2 percent bump -- the first in 20 years.
  • Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.
  • Nationally since 2000, U.S. Catholic school enrollment has plummeted by 23 percent, and 1,900 schools have closed, driven by demographic changes and fallout from sexual-abuse scandals.
  • But lately, Catholic schools have slowed their overall rate of decline: this year, 2 million children attended Catholic schools, down 1.7 percent from last year, but less than the average yearly decline of 2.5 percent over the past decade.

It is believed that this growth is due largely in part to the increasing availability of vouchers, which ease the financial burden on parents of sending their kids to non-public schools (which usually offer superior academic outcomes).

  • Vouchers are currently made available in 10 states and Washington, D.C., and this is further expanded by various non-voucher tax credit programs.
  • Furthermore, Virginia, Florida and Louisiana each created or expanded voucher or tax credit programs in the last 18 months.
  • The largest voucher system in the country, located in Indiana, has also seen more than 2,400 students transfer from local public schools to private Catholic schools since the program began last year.

These programs have breathed new life into the private school system while simultaneously offering students the opportunity to receive a superior education.

Source: Stephanie Banchero and Jennifer Levitz, "Vouchers Breathe New Life into Shrinking Catholic Schools," Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2012.

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