Noticias de la Diócesis de Allentown

Catholic School Funding and Affordability

Often heard in education circles is the value of educating the whole child. Human flourishing goes far beyond the cognitive to also include moral, physical, and social, and mental well-being. The Church, in her wisdom, recognizes these other dimensions of education as part of spiritual development. For the children of our parish communities, Catholic schools are a solution to a whole-child approach to education where our Catholic morals and values shape the way we approach cognitive and social growth.

Because the Catholic school option is a tuition-based model, it is sometimes misperceived as unaffordable. When parents come to tour our schools, they are often surprised by the affordability and scholarship options.

In the early part of American history, common schools were one solution to facilitate the assimilation of immigrants into American society. Protestant theology permeated the curriculum and anti-Catholic bias was portrayed in school textbooks. This, perhaps, led to the first school choice argument in the United States when in the 1840s, Archbishop Hughes went as far as to demand a portion of New York’s common school funds to support Catholic schools, but his efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Maine Sen. James Blaine pushed to prohibit aid to religious schools. The initiative failed at the federal level; however, several states adopted what were known as Blaine Amendments, which disqualified religious schools from receiving taxpayer funding.

At the turn of the 20th century, Catholic schools in the United States were fully funded by the tithing of parishioners. In 1950, 90% of teachers were religious sisters, brothers, or clergy, and only 10% of those teaching were lay people. Today, over 97% of teachers in Catholic schools are lay. The loss of religious congregations in school staffing, as well as the necessary expenditures that come with educating a student in 2024, have significantly impacted the cost to educate each student. As a result, parishes can no longer fully fund the school.

There is a misconception that the Diocese funds all ministries, but in reality, parishes and their ministries are mostly funded by parishioners in their local community. The Diocese does operate several fundraising efforts, such as the Because We Are Catholic Appeal, for specific ministries such as Catholic Charities, Catholic senior housing and healthcare services, pregnancy support services, and support for veterans, just to name a few. Parishes and schools also receive some shared services that are handled in the diocesan offices, such as insurance, human resources support, financial services, and school support.

Catholic elementary schools are considered a ministry of the parish. On average, the elementary schools are funded primarily by tuition (about 57%), parish support (about 22%), and local fundraising (about 6%), with other miscellaneous revenue making up the difference.

Other sources of revenue may come from renting building space, early childhood programs, or other innovative sources that pastors and school leaders develop to fill in the gaps.

High schools are not parish schools, and therefore do not receive a parish investment; however they do receive some funding from the limited diocesan operating budget. High school tuition reflects the larger campuses, which are more expensive to maintain. High schools also provide more services to meet the needs of the age group and do not receive parish donations like the elementary schools.

Similarly, centers of special education also receive some diocesan funding, but are primarily supported by very generous donors who are committed to their mission.

Despite the funding challenges, Catholic schools remain an incredibly affordable option for families. Considering the average cost to educate a public school student is $20,000 per year, the average Catholic school elementary tuition is about $4,340 ($360 per month) for the first child, and many schools have discounts for siblings. High school tuition, on average, is about $9,090 ($760 per month). In comparison, most non-Catholic private schools in Pennsylvania cost over $20,000 per year in tuition alone. Catholic school tuition is less than half of public or other private school per student costs due to the generosity of parishioners and other donors.

When looking at the national landscape, Pennsylvania is a somewhat school-choice-friendly state. Therefore, Catholic school students receive transportation from their local public school districts and a small per-student stipend for nonreligious student materials.

Further, Pennsylvanians can benefit from the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program or Opportunity Tax Credit (OSTC) scholarships. The scholarships are donor-funded and provide an individual donor or business a tax credit that may be applied against their state tax liability. For a two-year commitment, an individual or business can receive a 90% tax credit.

The philosophy of Catholic schools is that one cannot separate the academic education from moral and social development. The Catholic school makes the perfect triangle of home, parish, and school, where a student is part of a Christ-centered community.

Catholic and non-Catholic students in Catholic schools are among the Catholic community for 180 days per year. Recognizing the immense opportunity for evangelization and faith formation, Catholic schools are a treasure that the Diocese of Allentown is committed to safeguarding.

By Dr. Sarah Kerins, former Director of School Marketing and Enrollment, Diocese of Allentown.