Voucher Programs Boosting Catholic School Enrollment

Catholic schools around the country are seeing an enrollment boost for the first time in more than a decade thanks to school voucher programs, Fox News reports. East Chicago's only remaining Catholic school, the St. Stanislaus, increased its number of students by 38% the year that Indiana introduced vouchers that allowed parents to apply their state education allotment towards private school tuition. Seventy-two new students, and the state money they brought with them, allowed the school for the first time to make a dent in the $140,000 loan it owes to its local Diocese.

Although not all Catholic schools in states where vouchers have been given the go-head by lawmakers are seeing gains as dramatic, the trend is apparent just about everywhere. In Chicago, enrollment is up by 3% in Catholic elementary schools this year, after going up by 1% the year before. This is the first year-on-year improvement that the parochial school system has seen since 1965.

Greater Boston elementary schools had a 2% bump—the first in 20 years. And Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Bridgeport, Conn., also added desks for the first time in years.

The impact of vouchers is even more impressive considering that, nationwide, the number of students attending Catholic schools has dropped by nearly a quarter since 2000, driving nearly 2000 of them to close as a result. Experts attribute the numbers to changes in demographics and the fall in prestige of the Catholic Church as a whole due to the priest sex-abuse scandal. Even with vouchers, more Catholic schools are scheduled to shutter their door next year in states all over the East Coast.

But lately, Catholic schools have slowed their overall rate of decline. This year, two million children attended Catholic schools, down 1.7% from last, but less than the average yearly decline of 2.5% over the past decade.

The improving prospects for Catholic schools in some cities come at a time of great ferment in U.S. education. Years of overhauls in public schools have yielded only modest progress. And attendance at independent private schools fell during the recession.

Although Catholic schools in some school districts are seeing gains even without vouchers, it's the voucher programs that are having the most impact. Parochial schools are benefiting especially because many are based in cities, where vouchers tend to be more popular, and they can draw on their relationship with community residents in order to draw more students to enroll. This means that it's only good news that more and more states are considering adopting various voucher variants, with three – Virginia, Florida and Louisiana – approving such programs only in the last 18 months.

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