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New Issue Brief: Understanding the Catholic School Enrollment Boost

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press release

New Issue Brief: Understanding the Catholic School Enrollment Boost

June 23, 2022

New York, NY — Earlier this week, the Supreme Court rejected a ban on state funds flowing to religious schools. The decision marks a new era for religious education, including Catholic schools, which are already enjoying an enrollment bump in the wake of Covid-19.

Just how significant is the bump? In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, adjunct fellow Kathleen Porter-Magee, with Annie Smith of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and Matt Klausmeier, formerly of the Colorado Department of Education, analyze the data. Homing in on key states, they suggest that after decades of consistent enrollment declines, the pandemic could signal a turning point for Catholic schools. But leaders must seize the opportunity adeptly, a task even more important considering Carson v. Makin’s outcome.

The 2021-2022 NCEA data reveal a 3.8 percent enrollment increase for Catholic elementary and secondary schools nationwide. Breaking this increase down by grade level reveals that Pre-K accounted for 66 percent of the boost, meaning schools received an influx of young families that could shape the future of Catholic K-12 education.

The ability of Catholic schools to offer in-person learning throughout the pandemic appears to have been central in driving the enrollment increase, and this sort of student-centric leadership and adaptability will determine whether the enrollment boost translates into permanent change, or ultimately becomes a missed opportunity. Recommendations for Catholic schools include:

  • Remove potential barriers to admission and financial assistance at Catholic schools. Catholic school admissions processes, scholarship paperwork, and tuition policies are often cumbersome and opaque, constituting barriers which push away families which would otherwise benefit greatly from Catholic education.

  • Focus efforts on retaining new, especially Pre-K, families. Given that many parents pay for childcare or pre-K, but fewer pay out of pocket for kindergarten, the chances of Catholic schools losing new families to free public and charter options is high.

  • Consider alternative school governance that empowers lay leadership. Too many parishes are stretched thin—often to the breaking point—and schools can be among the most complex of the church’s ministries.

  • Advocate for public recognition of the value provided by Catholic schools, with the aim of securing public funding. Especially with the Supreme Court clearing legal obstacles in Carson v. Makin, it’s time governors and state officials recognize the rights of parents to choose schools aligned with their priorities, and to support providing public funds to exercise those rights.

Click here to view the issue brief.

Contact:Nicolas (Nic) AbouchedidPress Officer(574)707-9494nabouchedid@manhattan-institute.org

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